Maximising the environmental benefits of offshore wind

The environmental benefits of wind energy as a clean source of electricity with no emissions of greenhouse gases or local air pollution and the benefits in terms of security of supply are widely recognised, and the overwhelming majority of Europeans have a very positive attitude to wind energy. The avoidance of water consumption compared to thermal electricity production and the positive, global and long-term contribution to preserving biodiversity in terms of climate change mitigation are less well known but also significant.

Locally, however, individual projects are sometimes the cause of concern because of visual landscape changes, noise or effects on local biodiversity and habitats. If located far from the coast only the latter is potentially a problem for offshore wind farms, and experience to date shows that it rarely actually is: monitoring programmes at existing offshore wind farms have shown that it is quite possible to construct even large farms without significant impacts on local biodiversity and habitats.

Nevertheless, farms that are not properly situated may affect sensitive species and habitats. Such potential problems should be identified at an early stage through strategic assessments, and if necessary addressed through appropriate mitigation measures to avoid or minimise any significant adverse effects.

The Commission considers that the existing EU legislation on nature and environmental assessments is an adequate framework which is flexible enough to deal with these aspects. It recognises, however, that further guidance on its application in the specific context of wind farms in or near protected or sensitive nature areas might help create further certainty for developers, authorities and other stakeholders. Therefore, the Commission services will step-up work to develop guidance on nature and wind farms with the aim of finalising it in 2009 at the latest. Options for providing, maintaining and disseminating state-of-the-art overviews of scientific findings about environmental impacts of wind power will be considered in this context. In addition, the Commission will continue work to establish a European Marine Observation and Data network (EMODNET) to facilitate access to data that can underpin environmental impact assessments.

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