UK Chamber welcomes new offshore wind developments but raises concern on navigational safety
With the Government poised to greenlight millions of pounds' worth of new offshore developments, the UK Chamber of Shipping warns that coordination and forward planning is essential to ensure new windfarms do not endanger vessels, lives or the environment.
The Government has just announced a new round of contracts for difference (CFDs) for May 2019, and intends to run subsequent auctions every two years after that, together worth over half a billion pounds.
At the same time, the Crown Estate has received eight applications to extend existing windfarms, which could add a combined 8GW of additional capacity for power generation. Separately, a new round of seabed leasing for offshore wind developments is likely to be marketed next year.
Such developments could potentially see 1-2GW of new offshore wind capacity (between 60 and 140 turbines) every year during the 2020s.
The Chamber fully supports offshore wind as a means to decarbonise the UK’s energy mix, as has been outlined in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ – but says that caution is needed.
“Our paramount concerns are the preservation of navigational safety for shipping and mariners, and minimising the additional emissions and fuel costs caused by vessels deviating around windfarms,” says Robert Merrylees, Policy Manager & Analyst at the UK Chamber of Shipping.
“When new windfarms are constructed or extended, vessels on established routes may have to navigate around them. This can cause ships to be funnelled into narrower channels, which can increase the risk of collision, particularly in poor conditions or when accounting for weather routing,” he explains.
“Smaller vessels can be especially affected when their preferred route is blocked by windfarm developments. Various UK Chamber members operating smaller vessels on coastal routes have expressed concern that their ships may be forced to use deep-water routes that were previously used only by larger vessels, which would create unnecessary congestion and vessel density.
“Were an accident to happen, we also have concerns that offshore turbines may hamper the ability of search and rescue teams to access the area,” he continues.
Deviation also has implications for the environment, as well as for safety. The shipping industry is making a concerted effort to minimise its carbon footprint and further reduce the emissions produced by ships – but these ambitions could be problematised if vessels have to re-route and spend more time at sea.
“When vessels are forced to deviate around offshore installations or lengthen their routing patterns, they also burn more bunker fuel, emitting greater volumes of greenhouse gases,” Robert explains.
“This can lead to some shipping routes becoming less viable economically for vessel operators. This would ultimately have a negative effect on the rest of the interregional business environment.”
But something can be done – and, in the Chamber’s thinking, prevention is better than a cure.
“To mitigate these risks to safety and the environment, we are calling for thorough and careful consultation and open, transparent planning of any new windfarm site. We would like to see greater coordination between the Crown Estate, Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and other marine stakeholders when planning the location of new leasing sites to minimise disruption to shipping. Marine spatial planning can provide the basis for this but is often overlooked," says Robert.
“On a small scale, this would include ensuring that turbines do not obstruct the most direct routes for vessels underway between ports pairings, by calling for developers to be flexible in their layout of turbines, in accordance with MCA guidance, so as to minimise any deviation for commercial shipping.
“On a larger scale, the planning process should reduce the potential for deviation over long distances, so that vessels do not need to zigzag around or between different windfarms, particularly those located in the waters of the UK and those of different exclusive economic zones (EEZ). To do this, there needs to be coordination between offshore wind developers internationally as well as with the shipping industry."
The UK has led the world in offshore wind developments and is now exporting that expertise to new installations being planned around the world. The Chamber is proud of this specialism and sees the sector as a significant opportunity for UK shipowning and services. But the organisation also wants offshore developers to proceed with caution.
“For brand-new developments, there needs to be a comprehensive overview of where the sites are located and how they will change the flow of vessel traffic through an area. For extensions to existing offshore windfarms, we’re calling for careful due diligence to be conducted to ensure that navigational safety is preserved,” says Robert.
“In essence, planners need to work with the shipping industry to mitigate any risk to vessels and to the people that work on them, as well as to our air quality. To do this, we need to coordinate.”
Image: Robin Dawe/Vattenfall.