Offshore wind facilities are expected to have negligible to minor environmental impacts in general – “if the proper siting and mitigation measures are followed,” a draft study says.
But some activists faulted the draft environmental impact statement by the federal Minerals Management Service. The document covers technologies for tapping offshore wind, wave and current energy.
The agency jumped to conclusions about the risks without having adequate information, said Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation and stewardship in the New Jersey Audubon Society.
“It’s grossly premature to conclude,” for example, that impacts on birds will be only moderate, Stiles said.
The Minerals Management Service welcomes any comments, positive or negative, that will help it strengthen the environmental impact statement and improve the offshore alternative energy program, said Nicolette Nye, its spokeswoman.
Under the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, the agency plans to propose rules for a program covering alternative energy, as well as alternate use of existing oil and natural gas platforms, on the Outer Continental Shelf this spring. No such platforms are off the East Coast.
The shelf begins 3 to 9 nautical miles off the coast and stretches to about 200 nautical miles offshore, with depths ranging from a few to thousands of meters, the draft document says.
A nautical mile is 1.15 miles.
The Minerals Management Service’s final impact statement is scheduled to be published in August. The rules in the works would cover, among other things, leases, easements or rights-of-way for alternative energy activities on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The draft impact statement focuses on alternative energy technologies and shelf areas that “industry has expressed a potential interest in and ability to develop or evaluate from 2007 to 2014,” the document says.
But development is expected to be in waters no more than 100 meters deep for wind and wave technologies and no more than 500 meters deep for ocean current technology, the document says.
The only shelf area where ocean current technology is feasible for development is in the Florida current, which flows off Florida to North Carolina and then moves northeast across the Atlantic Ocean, the document says.
Last year, the state Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters said New Jersey should facilitate a pilot project with up to 80 wind turbines.
Gov. Corzine’s proposed state budget includes $4.5 million for an 18-month ecological study of birds, marine mammals and turtles and other species offshore.
Waters off Seaside Park to Stone Harbor in Cape May County would be studied, according to a recent e-mail from a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman.
The study area would be 1 nautical mile off the coast to 20 nautical miles out, where it’s about 100 feet deep, the e-mail says.
Stiles, of the New Jersey Audubon Society, a nonprofit environmental group, said he thinks the Minerals Management Service draft document has some “severe deficiencies.”
It lacks information on displacement of birds and other species by alternative energy facilities, among other issues, he said.
For some species, building wind turbines offshore is like putting a Wal-Mart on top of a forest, rendering the habitat unsuitable, Stiles said.
“That impact would be negligible if the wind turbines are put in a place where the birds aren’t moving through for migration in high densities or a foraging area,” he said.
Good ecological data need to be collected “to form a foundation for siting standards . . . and policies to move forward,” Stiles said.
States such as California, New Jersey and Massachusetts are “really the innovators on energy and natural resource policies” and “decades ahead of D.C.,” he said.
New Jersey’s “approach doesn’t presuppose an answer,” Stiles said.
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the nonprofit American Littoral Society, a Sandy Hook-based coastal conservation group, said the draft document acknowledges “potentially serious adverse impacts” to marine mammals, migratory birds and uses of the ocean such as commercial fishing.
“They say basically to avoid those kinds of conflicts, you would have to not site offshore” wind turbines in important feeding, wintering, migratory and nesting areas for birds, among other issues, Dillingham said.
“Those are all descriptions of the waters off the coast of New Jersey,” he said.
The Minerals Management Service failed to “really analyze . . . the cumulative impacts of large numbers of windmills offshore,” Dillingham said.
The document does not have information supporting its conclusions on risks, he said.
Minerals Management Service officials are “in the business of opening the oceans up to energy development . . . so it’s not surprising that this was not a rigorous study of potential problems,” he said.
By Todd B. Bates
26 March 2007
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