Wind farms, sea life – Feds seek to strike balance

By David Pendered

(Note to readers: The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 1: Soaring Costs Threaten U.S. Offshore-wind buildout.)

Dec. 30 – Wind farms to be built in U.S. coastal waters have prompted a coordinated federal examination of how to protect North American right whales and other sea life from the energy systems.

On Dec. 5, NOAA and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced results of their collaborative effort to devise strategies to mitigate the interaction of wind farms and sea life.

The 30-plus-year strategy aims to protect sea life in relation to wind farms in the North Atlantic Ocean, defined as Maine to Cape Hatteras, in North Caroina, according to the Federal Survey Mitigation Strategy.

Conservation of North American right whales is a major consideration in the development of offshore wind farms. (Credit: BOEM, NOAA)

Stakes are high for both survival of sea life and production of wind energy.

In terms of sea life in these wind farm areas, NOAA Fisheries surveys support the management of “more than 40 fisheries, more than 30 marine mammal species, and 14 threatened and endangered species (some marine mammals are also endangered),” according to the Dec. 5 report. The public-private research effort has been underway since the 1960s.

In terms of wind turbines, federal leases for wind farms could be a lucrative source of money for the government. In just one example, in February the Biden administration announced a $4.37 billion deal for wind farm leases in the New York Bight, the ocean triangle flanked by Long Island and New Jersey. This is the nation’s “highest-grossing competitive offshore energy lease sale in history, including oil and gas lease sales,” according to a statement by the Interior Department.

The Biden administration contends it intends to thread the needle of protecting sea life while also meeting its mandate to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to statements by the Department of Energy. Union jobs also have been a selling point highlighted by the administration.

“The investments we are seeing today will play an important role in delivering on the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis and create thousands of good-paying, union jobs across the nation,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a Feb. 25 statement concerning the New York Bight lease deal.

The newly released Federal Survey Mitigation Strategy announced Dec. 5 is part of this effort.

The strategy provides five overarching goals that are to guide the development and implementation of specific programs, rules or regulations:

  1. “Mitigate impacts of offshore wind energy development on NOAA Fisheries surveys;
  2. Evaluate and integrate, where feasible, wind energy development monitoring studies with NOAA Fisheries surveys;
  3. “Collaboratively plan and implement NOAA Fisheries survey mitigation with partners, stakeholders, and other ocean users using the principles of best scientific information available and co-production of knowledge, including fishermen’s local ecological knowledge and indigenous traditional ecological knowledge;
  4. “Adaptively implement this Strategy recognizing the long-term nature of the surveys and the dynamic nature of wind energy development, survey technology and approaches, marine ecosystems, and human-uses of marine ecosystems;
  5. “Advance coordination between NOAA Fisheries and BOEM in the execution of this
    Strategy and share experiences and lessons-learned with other regions and countries where offshore wind energy development is being planned and underway.”

This program is in addition to the effort by NOAA and BOEM to focus on the protection of the North America right whales as the wind power industry expands. A report released in October cites specific threats to the right whale, which has established calving grounds of the coast of Georgia and northern Florida.

Offshore wind farms may have multiple effects on the surroundings of the North American right whale, according to federal regulators. (Credit: NOAA, BOEM)