Offshore wind farms could cause ‘cataclysmic destruction’ of ecosystems
Credit: Jason Endfield, Dec 28, 2022, jasonendfield.medium.com ~~
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Wind energy, cheap electricity from the elements. Surely a great idea?
But has it just become a cash cow for big industry and governments, with precious little benefit to citizens – and, ironically, all at the expense of the natural world?
I’ve written many times over the years about the potential for ecological damage caused by badly planned wind farms, particularly large offshore developments, the detrimental effects of which have been vastly underestimated.
Now, as the industry expands at an alarming pace, we disregard the evidence at our peril.
An immediate danger to nature – with worse to come
Studies have shown that the offshore wind industry is already a very present and immediate danger to nature. Now, in the UK, recent policy changes, aimed at rapidly ramping up industrial offshore development, mean that there will likely be even less consideration given to environmental concerns. With the UK planning to increase offshore wind power from 11GW to 50GW by 2030, it’s really bad news for nature. It means around 3,200 additional (and much bigger) wind turbines could be installed in the seas surrounding the UK by 2030 – roughly equating to three new turbines every two days if the target is to be met.
We know that existing offshore wind farms can be deadly to birds, a threat to cetaceans, responsible for the demise of rare bat species and worryingly the cause of destabilised phytoplankton levels, which has massive consequences for marine ecosystems generally.
Without a more considered approach, in our clumsy quest to find renewable sources of energy, we could do irreparable damage to marine biodiversity.
The UK’s ‘Energy Security Strategy’
Extensive industrial wind farm developments in the Irish Sea have, I believe, already contributed to a steep decline in several species of sea bird [link], as well as having a harmful effect on other marine life including whales and dolphins.
Now we hear that Ireland too could compound the problem by seeking to build even more wind farms in this already overcrowded body of water, while UK plans to rapidly expand wind farm development in the North Sea will further endanger our marine wildlife. Indeed the UK’s ‘Energy Security Strategy’ will reduce planning consent times from around four years to just one year, in their own words “streamlining the environmental assessment process”, by reviewing and amending the Habitats Regulations Assessments and the Planning Act of 2008 “to maintain valued protection for wildlife, whilst reducing reams of paperwork.”
Quite how they will ‘maintain valued protection for wildlife’, while fast tracking planning applications, is unclear when we still know relatively little about the real effect that wind farms have on the environment.
Such ambitious plans for rapid expansion of the offshore wind industry means there will be fewer obstacles in the way of mass industrialisation of our seas and potentially even less consideration given to environmental impacts.
All of this is bound to damage ecosystems around the coast of the United Kingdom. There will be precious little refuge for wildlife and we will only discover the true cost when it is too late.
Experts urge caution – but is anyone listening?
These are not empty warnings, there has been much scientific research confirming that delicate ecosystems are already being harmed by the existing offshore turbine fields. But many of those urging caution remain unheard because they are battling a massive industry with huge financial backing and a very effective PR machine.
Today’s offshore wind industry has little or nothing to do with ‘saving the planet’, which is what they might have you believe, and the frenetic pace at which governments are determined to industrialise our oceans is alarming – and irresponsible.
If offshore wind development continues unabated and without due care, then we could face cataclysmic and irreversible destruction of marine ecosystems.
Not convinced? Well let’s look at some of the research then.
Marine ecosystems under threat
A recent paper published by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres [link] concluded that the expansion of wind farms in the North Sea “will have a significant impact on the structuring of marine coastal ecosystems”, impact that is not fully understood but is apparently being ignored by governments and the wind industry, both of which continue to insist that wind energy is green and environmentally friendly. It may be in principle, but the sheer scale and speed of offshore developments is unbelievably rash. Saving the planet for humans, it seems, will be at the expense of many other species, some of which may disappear entirely from this world in our quest for ‘sustainable’ and ‘renewable’ energy. But we won’t last long on our own. If we eradicate other species, as we are doing at breakneck speed already, then we are signing our own death warrant in the process.
As I’ve pointed out in earlier articles, whale strandings and bird loss might be the tip of the iceberg, the first visible signs of a massive ecological disaster if the expansion of the wind industry is allowed to progress unchecked.
Bats: Offshore wind farms pose a serious threat to the survival of our rarest bats.
An important report, published by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency as long ago as 2007, showed that migrating and coastal dwelling bats are actually attracted to the huge offshore turbines. The study found no less than twelve species of bat in coastal areas or offshore, and referred to bat collisions with offshore turbines as “deplorable” pointing out that “it is a serious matter if this mortality lowers the density or wipes out local populations.”
There is no significant data on the numbers of bats killed by offshore wind turbines. We simply do not know and this lack of data has been of concern even to those employed to carry out environmental impact assessments during the planning stage. One UK ecological consultancy company for example has lamented that “large numbers of bats could be following significant aggregations of insects far out to sea, possibly placing them in harm’s way as more and more wind farms spring up around the Baltic and North Seas, as well as Europe’s Atlantic coastlines,” adding that “it is very rare that we are asked to consider bats in our approach to pre-construction surveys or impact assessments”.
Whales and Dolphins: In recent years we have seen exceptionally high mortality events amongst whales and dolphins around the coast of the UK. There were upwards of 1000 whale strandings in 2018 alone.
I reported on this worrying trend that same year, and in a further article noted that studies of stranded whales in other parts of the world had found that they were deaf, their delicate hearing – on which they rely for communication and navigation – having been damaged by noise emanating from offshore turbines.
<>Birds: It is already well established that wind turbines kill huge numbers of birds in all areas of the world where they have been employed, on land and at sea.
Nowhere more perhaps than around the Irish Sea, where a high concentration of wind farms has coincided with a massive decline in sea bird populations. While there will be other contributing factors to their decline, plans to increase offshore wind in this relatively small and confined marine area will I fear likely lead to significant further decrease in birds to levels from which they may never recover. I reported on this in 2019, and the news caused much conversation and discussion, though not enough to deter the Irish government from giving a green light to plans for more industrial development in this ecologically sensitive and important marine environment.
Micro-ecosystems: Perhaps the most significant (and least visible) effect of wind farm expansion is the ‘unseen’ destruction of micro ecosystems. In the Helmholtz report referred to earlier, which particularly focused on the North Sea, researchers found that wind farms offshore are affecting micro climates which in turn is having a major effect on plankton; “the climate just above the sea surface is also being permanently changed” the report said, adding that “these impacts also lead to an altered spatial distribution of marine ecosystem components” They suggested that modification of the primary production of phytoplankton could be affected by up to ±10%. Their conclusion? “The small change in primary production would therefore have a lasting impact on the entire food web in the southern North Sea.”
Ecological disaster and money making schemes
It seems that nobody is listening to the warnings. Scientists, researchers and scholars have spoken. But governments and the wind industry are influenced by investment and financial gain. Unless the public wake up and see that they are being hoodwinked, then I’m afraid we will continue to see massive environmental and ecological destruction in the quest for the holy grail of ‘cheap’ energy. Energy which, by the way, will never be cheap for the consumer, who will continue to pay ever higher prices for ‘green’ energy, while the perpetrators of ecological disaster line their pockets with their ill gotten gains.
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