12 Mar 2020, 14:03
Benjamin Wehrmann

Offshore wind farm operators in row with environmentalists over impact on birds

Clean Energy Wire

The environmental impact of offshore wind turbines remains a hotly contested subject in Germany. German offshore wind farm operator association BWO said a study found that populations of loon birds in the North Sea's German Bight are not negatively affected by the turbines, but the findings were immediately rejected by environmentalists. "The population has remained stable after the construction of turbines completed so far," the BWO said, citing the study that looked at loon population data spanning a period from 2001 to 2018 during spring and winter. Offshore wind farm operators in German territorial waters are required by law to monitor the environmental effects on the surroundings caused by their turbines. BWO executive Stefan Thimm said the latest study was proof that "climate action and species protection are not mutually exclusive," adding that earlier studies of porpoise whale populations in the area yielded similarly reassuring results. Nevertheless, "offshore wind farm operators will continue to look for innovations in construction and operation that minimise possible perturbations," Thimm noted.

Environmental organisation NABU said it remained sceptical how valid the BWO study's results were. "The study is a quite obvious attempt to play down the effects of offshore wind farms on protected birds," said NABU marine protection expert Kim Detloff. He added that the study's authors themselves acknowledged that two loon species avoid turbine locations by 10 kilometres and were completely absent within a distance of five kilometres. "Habitats for these species become scarce and over the medium to long run we can also expect a drop in population numbers," Detloff argued. He said a decline in population numbers had already been observed in other studies and also for other bird species. "Instead of minimising these problems, operators and policymakers should rather try to find robust solutions for environmentally friendly wind power production at sea," he said, adding that the ecological "breaking point" in the North and Baltic Sea should determine how many wind turbines can be built there.

Wind power production at sea is becoming an increasingly important pillar of Germany's energy transition and offshore capacity growth was greater than onshore wind for the first time ever in 2019, with about 1,500 turbines reaching a total capacity of 7.5 gigawatts (GW). The government looks set to increase the 2030 expansion goal from 15 to 20 GW and according to wind power industry groups, Germany could see a total capacity of 50 GW by 2050, with the number of turbines rising accordingly.

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