Energy revolution in harmony with nature?

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Energy revolution in harmony with nature?

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All of you that have been showing the love this month (here) will know that 2015 is an important year for the future of our climate. During the final throes of the year, world governments meeting in Paris for international climate negotiations have important decisions to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding climate change deal that ensures we, collectively, keep global temperature within safe limits. Of course, we can’t leave the future of the planet to all those pre-Christmas discussions and there are commitments which must be honoured now - especially to ensure we keep on track to meet our renewable energy targets and to continue the move towards low carbon economy.

Yesterday's announcement (here) about which renewable energy schemes have been awarded Government backing is an important contribution to reducing carbon emissions. But do these schemes help to maximise the potential contribution, and are the schemes in the right places? Well, no, and... no.

Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Although the winning schemes will help lower greenhouse gas emissions, we regard the decision-making process that has been used to get us here as fundamentally flawed. The ideal scenario would be a system which maximises the potential of renewable energy with the least damaging environmental footprint. In reality, the current funding system squeezes a limited number of projects into a shrinking pot without sufficient environmental safeguards and without properly assessing the cumulative impacts on our natural environment.

Two of the schemes are offshore wind energy projects. EA One is off the coast of East Anglia; and Neart na Goaithe is off the Scottish coast.

Ironically, UK seabirds are among the species most heavily impacted by climate change so far, but offshore windfarms have to be individually and cumulatively assessed for any risks they may pose directly to those same seabirds.

Kittiwake (Grahame Madge rspb-images.com)

The RSPB has ongoing concerns about the Neart na Goaithe scheme and we are part way through a judicial review (here), so it’s inappropriate to comment too much here.

We are increasingly concerned about the combination of pressures on North Sea bird life at present, and in particular impacts on the gannets and kittiwakes of Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs Special Protection Area and Sites of Special Scientific Interest due to the combined collision risk resulting from a number of wind farms (both consented and proposed) in this area. As well as EA One, these include the recently consented Dogger Bank Creyke Beck A&B wind farm, the Dogger Bank Teesside A&B Offshore wind farm whose examination has just concluded, and in particular, the recently consented Hornsea One offshore wind farm which is the closest to the Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliff seabird colonies.

The EA One offshore wind farm on its own would provide a large amount of power for a relatively small level of ecological impact.  However, during the examination of EA One, the RSPB put across its concerns about the combined impacts of this scheme with those other North Sea offshore wind farms on the amazing seabird colonies at Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs as these birds can forage for food as far as the East Anglian coast.

With more North Sea offshore windfarm schemes in the pipeline, the RSPB considers it is vital that whoever forms the next UK Government revisits how it allocates what has become a limited funding pot.  It needs to ensure that the UK maximises its potential for offshore wind energy in ways that don’t harm the environment rather than being focused on cost alone. This will help ensure the highest renewable energy capacity is delivered with the lowest possible impact.

We need to tackle climate change but we must also halt the decline of seabirds. Politicians must acknowledge and address both these concerns.  So, yes, let's invest in renewable energy including offshore windfarms, but let's also do more to ensure that these developments are sited with the utmost care to avoid further impacts on vulnerable populations of seabirds.

Comments
  • Excellent blog Martin and absulutely right. One really does wonder why the Government, in this case presumably The Department of Energy and CC, do not consider the Environmental and wildlife issues much more thoroughly before permitting these types of massive structures to be built in our inshore waters. Perhaps their apprach is "out of sight out of mind" for offshore wind farms.

    However surely it makes sense to sek the views of the RSPB on these issues, especially concerning the effect on sea birds, before permiiting these wind farms to go ahead. The RSPB have done so much study and monitotring of these structures to be able to have a very valuable input in each case.  

    It seems this latest episode is yet another example, I am sorry to say, of the myopic and parochial approach that Goverment  Departments seem to adopt with regard to their own responsibilities while having little or no  consideration of the wider issues.