Site selection and planning: Reducing conflict through spatial planning

By: Stephen Markham

Spatial planning of offshore resources will be essential for the development of the continental shelf on the East Coast of the U.S.

Industries with interests in fishing, shipping, and defense all are vying for a limited amount of space, thus the delineation of boundaries and the permitting processes surrounding them will be crucial to integrating the offshore wind industry to fit in seamlessly with existing oceanic stakeholders. In the U.K., the permitting and marine spatial planning process brings together multiple users to make informed decisions about oceanic territories.

Andrew Thompson, the Delivery Director for Offshore Wind at Atkins Global, opened the workshop by explaining the U.K. permitting process to develop offshore wind in the U.K. A simpler permitting process and long term planning for defined wind turbine sites are critical to the success of wind farms here. Compared to the numerous permits required for the installation of Block Island in the U.S., Scotland required 2 permits for an offshore wind farm. Similar to the U.S., the U.K. auctioned off installation zones, comparable to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) commercial lease sites. As technology evolves, these installation zones are developing at greater distance from shore. Preparation due to marine spatial planning expedites the permitting process and long term planning can provide for information that can be evaluated while making future ocean zoning plans.

Marine spatial planning allows those involved in planning the wind farm to make informed decisions about the ocean region in which they operate. When planning for offshore wind farms, the U.K. hopes to ensure clean, healthy and safe construction projects while protecting the biologically diverse ecosystem of the ocean. The U.K. has defined 11 marine zones within its waters, each with a 20 year long-term plan.  Each of the 11 marine zones plans are reviewed and updated on a 3-year basis.

Sandra Whitehouse of the Ocean Conservancy further supported the need for future planning for the development of Offshore Wind in U.S. waters.

“Having more granularity in each of these areas can inform developers about where they are placing their leases,” she said.

Regional plans such as the Northeast Data portal create a collaborative workspace for data to be utilized for informed decision making in the siting process. Furthermore, failures such as the litigation involved in the 2001 Cape Wind permit application provide areas of learning to speed up the permitting process in the future.

Pragmatic solutions must be considered when siting offshore wind farms as the overlap of interest—such as fishing, recreation, and transportation—can create issues for optimal turbine placement. Communication among stakeholders is essential to successful implementation of marine spatial planning. Whitehouse explained that Rhode Island’s Block Island was the first to go through with the offshore wind farm because the development team efficiently and effectively carried out the spatial area plan and defined the Block Island farm to be an area for renewable energy. This demarcation and planning, along with effective stakeholder engagement, was key to the overall success of the project.

Resourceful spatial planning requires proactive planning, according to Kris Ohleth of Ecology and Environment.   Proactive planning is necessary to minimize delays in permitting processes, saving money for developers and overall bringing down the cost of offshore wind.

“Taking the lead from the project developer as a consultant” can provide for smoother permitting and faster regulations approvals leading for a shorter window required for projects to start up and begin running said Ohleth. Her suggestion of “consulting early and often” can help to avoid unforeseen costs associated with the permitting process and is a pivotal idea for successful consultation by Ecology and Environment.

The legal framework of offshore wind is complex, showing it is necessary to be current with consultations and communicating the development plan. The principles of meaningful stakeholder engagement, as explained by Catherine Bowes of the National Wildlife Foundation, are based in maintaining communication early in the process to avoid surprises during the development process. Siting, timing, and construction activities can be evaluated during project development for the protection of the environment.

Concurrently, the development of new technologies can further abate problems that arise during the construction process. Bowes noted that noise produced by pile driving support structures can be mitigated by investing in gravity based foundations that require no pile driving at all, removing the need for acoustic monitoring. Together, effective management in conjunction with the development of new technology in an efficient and environmentally conscious manner can lower the cost of permitting and minimize the time between planning and the construction phases of siting an offshore wind farm.

Overall, success in implementing more offshore wind farms will result from thorough work in spatial marine planning, permitting, communication with the stakeholders, and improvements in technology.

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