Marine ecosystems are dynamic, with substantial temporal variation in environmental conditions and in wildlife distributions. Many marine areas in the eastern United States are heavily used for transportation, resource extraction, military exercises, and other activities (Halpern et al. 2008, Industrial Economics Inc. 2012). Land-based human activities also impact marine ecosystems, such as coastal development and pollutants that make their way into oceans. Offshore wind energy is a relatively new industry in the United States that is being introduced into this highly dynamic and human-influenced system. Federal regulations were only established for the Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program in 2009, and a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory processes are still in development for the industry. Although a great deal of attention has been given to understanding and mitigating environmental effects of offshore wind energy development during site assessment and site characterization of lease areas, similar practices for the construction and operation of wind farms have in many cases not yet been fully defined.
As directed by the Environmental Technical Working Group for New York, in April 2019 a volunteer Specialist Committee (hereafter ‘Committee’; Appendix A) was formed to provide stakeholder input on practices to measure, understand, and mitigate (avoid, minimize, reduce, or offset) the effects of offshore wind energy development on marine mammals. Committee goals are to (1) develop recommended practices for environmentally responsible development with the purpose of informing a range of offshore wind-related efforts by developers, regulators, and other stakeholders, and (2) promote regional collaboration around environmental mitigation and monitoring for wildlife at offshore wind projects. The Committee is focused on developing recommendations that:
- Are applicable to a range of development locations. Recommendations may include variable levels of detail, depending on the degree of site-specific variation that must be considered for implementation.
- Are designed to inform decisions for a range of stakeholders involved with the offshore wind energy development process.
- May go beyond what is mandated in current regulations, while providing flexibility to ensure that recommendations can be reconciled with future changes to regulation and other guidance.
Committee discussions and written products could inform a range of state, federal, and stakeholder efforts to understand and mitigate the potential effects of offshore wind energy development. An initial objective of Committee efforts is to inform the New York State Public Service Commission’s (PSC) decision about recommended wildlife mitigation and monitoring practices to include in New York State’s Phase 2 offshore wind energy procurement order. In its Order Establishing Offshore Wind Standard and Framework for Phase I Procurement, the PSC stated that it would consider “best practices” developed by the E-TWG, and Department of Public Service (DPS) staff have more recently reiterated the willingness of the PSC to consider recommendations put forward by the E-TWG (and the group’s Specialist Committees) for inclusion in future procurements. Thus, recommendations from the Committee may eventually be mandated (for example, if they are implemented in New York’s Phase 2 Procurement) or may remain as voluntary guidelines. This document summarizes Committee input and degree of consensus on a range of potential mitigation and monitoring measures, and is intended, among other purposes, to support public comments to the PSC that are submitted from the E-TWG or other organizations during the state procurement process.