Europe’s offshore wind industry has reported high growth rates in 2020, but now that EU member states are putting the finishing touches on their maritime spatial plans, fisheries could put the brakes on the expansion.
The offshore wind industry recorded 7.1 GW of additional capacity in 2020, marking another record year for investments in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
This puts the industry well on track to reach its 2030 goal of 60 GW offshore capacity, with a growing number of megaprojects of more than 1 GW.
But as EU countries finalise their maritime development plans, offshore wind developers are set to clash with the interests of fishermen who are competing for space as well as attention from politicians.
“Fishermen and aquaculture producers should have a real say in the process of where those windmills are being built,” said Peter van Dalen, a Dutch lawmaker from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) who drew up a report on the matter for the European Parliament’s fisheries committee.
In his report, van Dalen says new offshore wind turbines should only be built after a comprehensive impact assessment has been made on the environment, socio-economic and socio-cultural implications.
The report points to underwater noise caused by the construction of offshore wind turbines which “has been shown to have an effect, mainly on fish and marine mammals and mainly during the construction phase.” It also draws attention to the “impacts from permanent continuous electromagnetic fields” which risk impacting the behaviour of electro-sensitive species.
To address those issues, van Dalen calls for fishermen and other stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making process, saying fishermen should be compensated in cases where wind farms restrict their fishing waters.
However, this could slow down permitting procedures for wind farms, which is already a major issue for the expansion of the offshore wind industry.
“A better and earlier cooperation with fishers and aquaculture producers towards a co-existence approach does not necessarily slow down the process of expansion,” said van Dalen, who says increasing social acceptance will increase offshore wind development down the line.
In France, not a single offshore wind farm has been built to this day, mainly because of resistance by fishermen and local communities. In Brittany’s Bay of Saint-Brieuc, an offshore wind farm was authorised in 2011 but was blocked by local associations who complained about a “botched” public consultation and the absence of an environmental impact study, which was finally initiated four years later, in 2015.
But Equinor, the Norwegian energy giant, appears not too worried about social acceptance. “We believe local coastal communities can benefit greatly from renewables projects that we and others are pursuing,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV.
The Norwegian company says it seeks to leverage its experience from offshore oil and gas drilling in order to drive social acceptance in the communities affected.
WindEurope, the wind industry association, said it was committed to intensified dialogue with fishermen: “The [Van Dalen] report promotes collaboration between fisheries and wind farm developers – a collaboration we are committed to intensify,” the association told EURACTIV in emailed comments.
“We can build offshore wind without significant negative effects on other sectors and biodiversity. More than that: offshore wind farms can serve as restoration areas for environment and fish stocks. In the long run, the fishing industry stands to benefit from that”, says Christoph Zipf, Communications Manager at WindEurope.
Shaping ocean use
The European Parliament report comes at a critical time for Europe’s blue economy: the 2014 Maritime Spatial Planning directive requires coastal EU states to submit national plans to the Commission by the end of March 2021.
Those plans should accommodate the interests of all stakeholders impacted by maritime spatial planning – be it for fisheries, military use or offshore wind development.
Italy and Spain are the most notable laggards, according to the European Commission, although almost 50% of coastal states had yet to submit their plans by June.
Germany has submitted its plan, the original version of which dates back to 2009. A new version is currently going through a public consultation and will be notified to the Commission as soon as it is approved, according to a spokesperson at the German interior ministry.
The German plan makes uncomfortable reading for the offshore wind industry. It shows the country will run out of space for new wind farms after 2040, a government source involved in the planning process told EURACTIV.
This is primarily due due to the limited size of Germany’s maritime area – a so-called exclusive economic zone (EEZ) roughly the size of Belgium.
German maritime space is currently used primarily for shipping routes, which receive 50% of the allocated area. Wind energy, meanwhile, is left with a mere 15% of sea space due to environmental conservation priorities. Fishing is technically allowed anywhere, but banned around wind farms.
Whether clashes of interest with fisheries will intensify the struggle for space in German waters is unclear, although a Commission official told EURACTIV that towed fishing is most likely to clash with offshore wind developments in the North and East Baltic Seas.
“Maritime spatial plans will be regularly updated to fit new realities and policy developments every 10 years at the minimum,” said European Commission vice-president Šuica Dubravka, who was speaking in the EU parliament on 5 July.
The 2009 German maritime spatial plan took more than 10 years to develop, but the government hopes the updated version will be adopted more quickly.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]