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Efforts to quadruple wind power in the North Sea will cause loss of marine life, peers were told yesterday.
Building large numbers of turbines will require concrete foundations to be laid in the seabed and cables to connect them to the mainland.
But this will affect species such as porpoises, which are disturbed by the sound of drilling in the ocean, and sand eels, whose sandbank habitats are lost when cables are laid, the House of Lords EU environment sub-committee heard.
Melanie Austen, Professor of Ocean and Society at Plymouth University, said: ‘We’re talking about effectively urbanising the sea by introducing these structures.
Introducing hard structure through cables and the turbines themselves is going to change the ecology and the ecosystem.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for the UK to become the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’ – aiming to quadruple windpower from 10gigawatts to 40 gigawatts.
But this quadrupling of windpower will require building large numbers of wind turbines which require concrete foundations and cables to connect them to the mainland.
House of Lords EU Environment sub-committee which was looking at the environmental impact of new energy developments in the North Sea.
The panel’s chairman Lord Teverson asked what risks the North Sea faces from the huge expansion of wind power which is necessary for the UK to reach its target of producing ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.
Professor Austen told the hearing: ‘We have to acknowledge what we’re doing, that we are transforming the sea the seabed and the state of the sea, in not too dissimilar a way to how we’ve modified habitats on land.
‘But when we modified the habitats on land we did that rather largely over 1000s of years through farming.’
RSPB policy officer Helen Quayle told the committee: the ‘North Sea as in a currently poor site as poor state this is reflected notably in our sea beds and an ongoing damage to the seabed.
‘The North Sea is now is littered with cabling from energy infrastructure and this changes the habitat of the seabed.
‘So for example if you had a sand bank, and you put cabling through that that is then covered with rock armoring to protect the cabling.
‘If you’re a sandeel and you need to live in a seabed that’s a big problem, it’s modified your environment.
‘Sandeels are really important species in the North Sea, they’re a keystone species part of many food webs for other fish species for our seabirds.’
She added: ‘We’ve also got problems for harbour porpoise, which is a cetacean they’re affected by underwater noise, and if we stopped, keep developing, we’re creating a more noisy environment and if you are a citation that relies on sound to find your food, detect predators and find mates.’
Using piledrivers to put in wind turbines can displace marine animals who shun the noise, the panel heard.
Asked how well the North Sea underwater environment is understood on a scale of 1-10, Professor Austen and Ms Quayle put it at between 1 and 2 and called for better monitoring of marine life in the North Sea.
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