Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management

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  • Coexistence of offshore wind power with commercial fishing, aquaculture and nature conservation: A synthesis of knowledge about preconditions and measures2023Report (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    In February 2022, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (hereinafter SwAM) and the Swedish Energy Agency (hereinafter Energy Agency) were tasked by the Government of Sweden with compiling a knowledge synthesis of the possibilities and preconditions for coexistence of offshore wind power with commercial fishing, aquaculture and nature conservation. The agencies have interpreted the assignment as referring to coexistence in the same location, highlighting in particular the importance of and prerequisites for adapting the different activities. This final report is based on a review of literature and projects, an analysis of navigational safety conditions, exchanges of experiences with other countries and dialogue with Swedish authorities and stakeholders.

    Offshore wind power

    The increasing demand for electricity is increasing interest in developing new offshore wind power. As a result, wind power’s claims on marine space have also increased, which could lead to conflicts with existing uses. The impacts of offshore wind power and the conditions for coexistence differ between the construction, operation and decommissioning phases, and are dependent on factors such as the choice of technology and type of installation. The rapid technological development that characterises offshore wind power creates both opportunities and challenges for coexistence, and there are currently several uncertainties that remain to be resolved. 

    The regulatory framework applicable to the establishment of offshore wind power is extensive and complex, particularly in terms of regulating its environmental impacts. At the same time, there are no regulations explicitly aimed at coexistence with other activities. Both in Sweden and other countries, there is limited experience in testing co-location of activities in offshore wind farms.

    For offshore wind power, the lack of predictability in the permitting process is an important challenge both for the state and the developer in terms of enabling coexistence while promoting new electricity generation. The planning and establishment system for offshore wind power that is currently in place in Sweden is limited in its ability to steer the expansion of offshore wind power in terms of the cumulative effects on the environment and other activities. More broadly, the system is ill-suited to promote coexistence at a more strategic level. This report presents arguments for a revised establishment system with stronger state steering and control of where offshore wind power may be located. The arguments highlight factors such as the potential for improved steering based on benefits for the electricity system, for better coexistence with other uses and assessment of cumulative effects, as well as for greater control over the pace of establishment and knowledge gathering.

    Coexistence between offshore wind power and commercial fishing

    The potential for coexistence between offshore wind power and commercial fishing differs depending on the fishing method, the type of wind park and the environmental conditions in the area. Coexistence with fishing with active gear is largely untested and is considered difficult or very difficult, mainly due to the associated safety risks. The current knowledge of opportunities and obstacles is largely based on experiences from older installations. The conditions for coexistence in future wind farms are judged to be better, although opinions vary. To date, the vast majority of countries have not planned for offshore wind in the most valuable fishing areas. This may be about to change in some countries, as governments are beginning to realise that conflict-free areas are not sufficient to meet offshore electricity generation targets. In Sweden, where there are wind power projects in some of the country's most valuable fishing grounds, two recent draft permits have proposed measures requiring the development of coexistence solutions. Coexistence is one of the fundamental objectives of Swedish marine spatial planning, and it is primarily within the framework of marine spatial planning that trade-offs between competing activities should be made.

    Where the coexistence of wind power and fishing is deemed possible, guidance on conditions may be relevant in terms of both the design of the wind park and the fishing activities. The focus should be on the safety and efficiency of both activities. The guidance may be of a general nature in marine spatial planning, and more detailed for the permit granting process. In the latter case, such guidance should contribute to uniform permit granting processes for future wind power projects. In the future, it may be necessary for the state to impose specific requirements regarding coexistence in certain areas. There is a need to investigate what opportunities the Swedish state has to impose such requirements within the existing wind power establishment system.

    This report also highlights the need for a robust, quantitative analysis of navigational risks related to fishing within wind parks in Swedish waters. Opportunities and obstacles to insurance of fishing activities in wind parks also need further analysis, taking fishermen, fishing boats and wind park developers into account. Cooperation between the sectors is crucial for the development of mutually beneficial coexistence solutions, which is why continued support for dialogue between fisheries and wind power is important.

    Coexistence between offshore wind power and aquaculture

    Offshore aquaculture is a new and growing activity. Although the industry is still in its infancy, there is a growing awareness of its commercial potential. Coexistence with offshore wind power can provide an opportunity for aquaculture to establish itself offshore and could lead to more efficient utilisation of wind power areas. At present, there is a very small number of combined aquaculture and wind power installations, all of which are at a research stage. There are currently no active facilities or license requests for offshore aquaculture in Swedish waters. Coexistence is currently hampered by a number of challenges relating primarily to the technology, operation and safety of combined installations, as well as to regulations, finances and insurance.

    The coexistence of aquaculture and offshore wind power can benefit from explicitly identifying sites for multi-use during the planning process, as recently introduced by the Netherlands. This may be the case in Sweden in the future, based on the ambition in the 2021 Aquaculture Action Plan to identify suitable areas for offshore aquaculture. Future marine spatial plans could provide guidance on coexistence in such sites. Ultimately, it may also be necessary to develop criteria for the assessment of combined installations, possibly taking into account both environmental risks and benefits.

    Continued support for the development of solutions of combined aquaculture and wind power installations is needed. Private actors play the most important role, but there is also scope for the state to support this development.

    Coexistence between offshore wind power and nature conservation

    The coexistence of wind power with nature conservation is strongly regulated in environmental legislation and concerns the assessment of permissibility in relation to conservation objectives. All countries, including Sweden, have extensive experience of environmental permitting of wind power. However, there are still significant knowledge gaps in knowledge about the impact of wind power on the marine environment, ranging from local impact on individual species to impact on populations at the sea basin level. The effects are often site-specific, which makes it more difficult to draw general conclusions about where and how coexistence may be possible.

    In most other countries, the state has steered offshore wind power away from protected areas and areas with particularly valuable species and habitats through marine spatial planning. Permit decisions are usually preceded by a site-specific assessment of whether the effects of wind power are within or above acceptable thresholds. There are currently no fixed threshold values for most effects, and decisions are instead based on the estimated impact on the conservation status of species and habitats. Clear assessment criteria for both effects and mitigation measures facilitate a uniform assessment of wind power and create predictability for both the permit review bodies and developers.

    For the establishment of offshore wind power in protected areas, the permitting process is even more complex and time-consuming, which increases the unpredictability and investment risks for the wind developer. To accelerate the development of offshore wind power, it may be necessary to divert wind power from protected areas or areas with protected species and habitats in the maritime spatial planning process. At a strategic level, it is also important to address future heightened marine protected area targets in the European Union Biodiversity Strategy.

    The coexistence of offshore wind power and nature conservation is hampered by a lack of knowledge about the environmental effects of wind power. Knowledge acquisition programmes are important in order to gradually develop robust assessment criteria for assessing wind power projects and develop conditions for construction and operation. It is important that the state collaborates with the wind power industry and academia to develop such a programme, taking inspiration from the experience of other European countries.

    Nature-inclusive design in or adjacent to wind power foundations is driven by the wind developers themselves based on the ambition for offshore wind parks to have a net positive contribution to the environment. The way in which the designs should be assessed and their actual environmental effects need to be clarified in order to assess whether they can help to make coexistence between offshore wind power and nature conservation more feasible.

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