Letter to the editor: Proposed environmental assessment processes for offshore wind farms

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THERE IS some local resistance to offshore wind farm development, some of which is really based on environmental fears about the potential impact of these developments on the ‘pristine’ offshore environment.

In theory, the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) will address this situation.

But these environmental impact assessments/statements will have to be demonstrably independent and transparent to avoid being accused of bias or influenced by their proponents.

This would make the EIAs and associated work unacceptable to sectors of the community, including those waiting to see how the environmental impact assessments will be carried out.

Any doubt about the independence of the impact assessments/statements will undermine the entire process and will undoubtedly be used by some to continue to sow more fear and division in the community.

Independence and transparency can be achieved by setting up a trust fund to which the successful licensees subscribe financially, either equally or in proportionate amounts based on the size of their license.

This will create a single fund to support environmental assessment work relating to the development of wind farms in the permit area.

The Trust and associated entities will need to be clearly independent of its proponents and government, with very clear terms of reference.

However, the government will be required to put in place the necessary legislation and regulations to establish trust and ensure proponents adhere to the proposed process.

To maximize the credibility of the process, an oversight body (committee) will need to be established to ensure that the Trust meets its obligations to produce an independent and transparent EIA.

This committee may consist of academics from various universities and institutions and may also include private sector and independent/international expertise as appropriate.

The entire structure and process will be funded by the Trust using the money held in trust for the proponents.

This process will help ensure that a broader ecosystem approach is taken to the required studies, for example by including a wider buffer zone around the individual permit areas and covering the areas between the individual leases, which will provide a better understanding of the ecology of the areas. and potential impacts on the entire lease area and not just on the individual permit areas with their minimum buffer zone.

This scheme should be cheaper for proponents and generally deliver better environmental outcomes and provide a better basis for developing their work.

It will also build community trust for advocates and the government.

The data collected through these surveys will be owned by the government and made public for peer review and blue sky research by other institutions.

A period prior to releasing the data for further investigation may be appropriate, but should not exceed two years.

This will allow further independent research to be carried out in these areas, which may lead to unrecognized long-term effects being identified by independent researchers.

Proponents may oppose this proposed approach and argue that there is a need for trade secrecy.

There may be some specific technical features of each proposer’s proposal that require ‘commercial confidence’.

The Trust should be given the discretion to allow certain limited investigations and assessments to be carried out separately by individual licensees.

But the bulk of the environmental assessment required will apply to all technical proposals.

Finally, it should be noted that certain individuals in the community have already publicly stated that they will not necessarily accept or believe the science!

Presumably this is a belief system that requires a different intervention.

Iain WATT,
EcoNetwork Port Stephens.