Marine energies, such as offshore wind, are currently being promoted by the European Union in its “Green Deal” to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. On Thursday, November 19, the European Commission presented its plan to increase offshore wind power fivefold in order to reduce its fuel consumption. The goal is to increase offshore wind capacity from 12 GW to 60 GW by 2050.
Wind energy deemed dangerous for biodiversity
This news did not completely delight the European Green Party. Despite the importance they attach to this energy in the fight against climate change, they have expressed concerns about the preservation of marine ecosystems.
Indeed, without effective maritime spatial planning and public consultation, offshore wind could threaten species such as harbor porpoises, seabirds and other wildlife. On the other hand, properly planned offshore wind power could protect the fauna and flora by creating marine feeding areas for example.
Grace O’Sullivan, Irish Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, said:
“Unfortunately, the strategy does not mention the precautionary principle. Offshore renewables must not come at the expense of marine ecosystems and biodiversity.”
These parliamentarians have also highlighted the timidity of the commission in the deployment of offshore wind. According to them 450 GW would be necessary to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and not 60 GW.
French resistance to offshore wind power
France, which relies on nuclear power and an economy based on fishing and tourism, currently has no offshore wind sites. The projects implemented, through successive calls for tender, have often been rejected and criticized by local citizens’ associations and fishermen. The example of the 496 MW offshore wind farm in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, authorized in 2011, is obvious.
Local associations blocked the work and requested an environmental impact study. For their part, the fishermen have taken the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, highlighting the negative consequences of this project on the environment and on the “scallops”. However, in 2019, the Council of State authorized the continuation of the work by the consortium Ailes Marines, bought by Iberdrola, and the equipment manufacturer Siemens Gamesa.
The latter have stated that they respect marine biodiversity by reducing the area covered and avoiding the main scallop beds. These claims are also being made by British fishermen in Jersey, especially in this time of Brexit when the future of maritime borders is uncertain.
However, France has seven offshore projects under construction that should emerge between 2022 and 2027.
A European awareness
The commission, when announcing its climate strategy, insisted on the importance of ecological and social aspects in the construction of these projects. The European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius has actually stated:
“Today’s strategy describes how we can develop offshore renewables in combination with other human activities, such as fishing, aquaculture or shipping, and in harmony with nature. The proposals will also allow us to protect biodiversity and address the possible socio-economic consequences for the sectors that depend on healthy marine ecosystems, thus promoting a healthy coexistence within the maritime space.
The European Commissioner Kadri Simson also recalled the importance of engaging with local authorities to advance these projects and develop employment in coastal regions. This new European strategy faces many obstacles due to its environmental and economic impacts.