Report from the Minos+ conference on ecological impacts of wind farms on the marine environment, Hamburg, 9 & 10 Jan

By Chris Westra on

On January 9 and 10, 2008 a conference took place in Hamburg where the final results of the German Minos + programme were presented. The Minos+ programme is a research programme, sponsored by the federal government of Germany (BMU, Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit), which addressed the potential impacts of offshore wind farms on the marine ecology in particular on birds and sea mammals.

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Typical research issues were:

  • the dynamics of population densities and migration patterns of various species of water birds and sea mammals during their respective phases in their life (mating, giving birth, feeding, etc.) as a function of the time in the year,
  • the effects of noise, notably during hammering of foundation piles in the sea bottom, on the behaviour of porpoises.
    Many statistics and distribution curves were presented which definitively are very useful for ecologists and biologists. However, for wind energy developers these data as such are difficult to use for assessing the impacts of wind farms on the ecological system. What counts is the final impact of an offshore wind farm or a cluster of farms on nature, notably expressed in terms of the size of populations of the key species, taking into account relationships between different populations of species.
    In order to fully assess the impact, statistics of the base line situation (reference before the installation of wind farms) are needed, as well as the effects and hazards of the wind farm. Of course such information cannot be collected and analysed for all occurring species. That is why a selection of key species has to be established as well.Summarising the conference contributions along the lines of relevant issues (base line data, effects/hazards, impacts) we came to the following conclusions:
  • Although the researchers did not draw specific conclusions on key species, harbour porpoises, harbour seals, grey seals, terns, various species of ducks, and a host of other bird species apparently belong on the key species list.
  • Most of the information can be regarded as raw data for characterising base line situations of the German EEZ of the North Sea and the Baltic, sometimes also including the Danish part of the Baltic. There was very limited focus on assessing specific effects and hazards and impacts. The only detailed study on impacts addressed the effects of under water noise, caused by hammering foundation piles on the hearing capability of porpoises and seals. (Occasionally reference was made to the experiences of ecology monitoring of the Danish Horns Rev and Nysted wind farms when it came to assessing impacts.)
    At the end of the conference Tobias Petrovic of the Koordinationstelle Jülich provided the perspective for a continued research programme lasting at least 5 years after the construction of the first offshore wind farm in Germany. This will be the (2 x 6 x 5 MW) offshore test field. Because of the perspective of a ‘post wind farm’ programme, the present research is to be regarded as highly relevant, not only for Germany but also for countries with similar offshore habitats like the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. Without such a programme the present research would be irrelevant for the wind energy sector. In that case the only conclusion would be that generic ecological research was sponsored, be it indirectly, by the wind energy sector.
    The relationship with wind energy was not always very obvious anyway. This was best illustrated by a remark of one of the participants, who highlighted the one of the results of the Minos and Minos+ programmes. Thanks to the results of these programmes Germany has been able to establish nature areas under the European Habitat Directive and thus offshore wind farms in these areas are excluded!
  • As far as information on final impacts, provided during the conference, concerns the conclusions were ‘no effects could be registered’. This appeared from a survey of a number of IEA’s from different countries, presented by Peter Evans. At Horns Rev for instance no difference in populations of harbour porpoises were registered whether the wind farm was in operation or not. These provisional observations stand in stark contrast with the trend of some of the comments made during the presentations and discussions where it was assumed that wind farms were to be excluded if wind farm sites were coinciding with concentration areas of some species, without having even the slightest clue about possible effects/hazards. For this reason we think it is absolutely essential that only registered facts are being used to design IEA requirements rather than relying on absolutely unproven and unlikely facts. In the case of an absolute lack of knowledge requirements should be based on the balance of interests of sustainable energy supply for society versus ecology; two aspects of the same medal!
  • We found it a pity that the wind energy sector was underrepresented at the conference (about 5 compared to about 145 from the ecology research community and government authorities.). This illustrates that we still are far away from an interdisciplinary approach which is essential to complete the full cycle of the research concerned, thus from base line monitoring via monitoring methods to impact assessments extending into wind farm design recommendations for least negative ecological impacts. However, from the high quality of the presented research and interactions during the conference, we assume that in the future the research community will be extended to include wind energy technology researchers as well. It is the research communities’ own responsibility to establish these interactions. This does not need (international) coordination interference by governmental bodies as such. National and international bodies however should create the conditions for the research communities to meet and ‘fight’.The results of the Minos+ programme will be published in a book ‘Marine mammals and seabirds in front of offshore wind energy’, which will be available in February 2008. (Teubner Verlag, Wiesbaden, ISBN 987-3-8351-0235-4)

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  • Other recommended reading includes:
    • The National Research Council of the National Academies; Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. 2007. ISBN-13 978-0-309-10834-8 (Book), ISBN-10 0-309-10834-9 (Book), The National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Box 285, Washington, DC 20055.
    • Julia Köller, Johann Köppel, Wlofgang Peters (Editors); Offshore Wind Energy; Research on Environmental Impacts. 2007. Springer Verlag. ISBN-10 3-540-34676-7, ISBN-13 978-3-540-34676-0.
    • Dong Energy, Vattenfall, Danish Energy Authority, Danish Forest and Nature Agency; Danish Offshore Wind; Key Environmental Issies. 2007.  ISBN: 87-7844-625-2.

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