The Annex IV initiative, under the Ocean Energy Systems (OES) collaboration has released the 2016 State of the Science report on environmental effects of marine renewable energy development around the world. The draft report, released February 23, 2016 is available for public review and comment through March 18, 2016. Led by the US, thirteen OES countries have joined together to assess the potential environmental effects of MRE development, collaboratively identify ways to address potential effects that hamper siting and consenting/permitting of devices, and facilitate the establishment of the MRE industry.
The information gathered and analyzed for this report can help inform regulatory and research investigations of potential risks to marine animals and habitats from tidal and wave installations and assist MRE developers in developing approaches to minimize potential effects on marine animals. Used in conjunction with site-specific knowledge, this information may also simplify and shorten the time to permit (consent) deployment of single and multiple device arrays. This report has brought together and analyzed the publically available reliable information about environmental interactions with MRE devices. The analysis and conclusions drawn are not meant to take the place of site-specific analyses and studies, or to direct permitting (consenting) actions or siting considerations in specific locations.
Topics addressed in the State of the Science report include:
- Collision risk for animals around tidal turbines
- Risk to marine animals from underwater sound
- Changes in physical systems: energy removal and changes in flow
- Effects of EMF on marine animals from electrical cables and MRE devices
- Changes in benthic habitats and reefing
- Marine spatial planning
- Cases Studies that examine siting and permitting/consenting
The executive summary of the report is available for review. Two of these topics are summarized here:
The potential for marine animals to collide with the moving parts of tidal devices continues to be the most challenging issue for consenting/permitting and licensing of tidal developments. Where proposed tidal energy projects overlap with the habitat of protected species there are concerns that collisions could lead to injury and mortality of individuals, and possibly affect the long-term status of the population. Approaches for observing collisions and animal behavior around turbines requires additional development of specialized instruments and techniques. Research to date has focused on single devices; extrapolating to commercial arrays will probably require additional studies. It is possible to predict rates of collision using numerical models, but these models have not been validated and are not particularly accurate. Collisions with tidal turbines so far have examined collision for individual marine mammals and some groups of fish; however, the results must be scaled to include considerations of risks to populations.
To provide insight into the complexities associated with siting and consenting MRE projects, four case studies were reviewed: two tidal devices (ORPC TidGen® Power System, installed in the United States; MCT SeaGen technology installed in Northern Ireland); one WEC (WaveRoller, installed in Portugal); and one designated test site (BIMEP, in the Basque Country, Spain). The lack of dedicated policies to streamline development of wave and tidal projects presents some challenges. Nonetheless, existing projects provide opportunities to inform future development activities. Lessons learned from each of the studies highlighted approaches that have led to project success and reduced consenting timelines, including: 1) strong stakeholder outreach and inclusion of community concerns into project planning; 2) integration of robust monitoring plans and adaptive management strategies to optimize monitoring and mitigation measures; 3) involvement of subject matter experts in project planning to provide guidance on monitoring and mitigation; and 4) development of a sound Environmental Impact Assessment and stakeholder communication throughout the process.