This is an exciting moment for U.S. offshore wind energy development along the Atlantic Coast. Many states—including New York—have adopted ambitious offshore wind goals and are supporting a variety of offshore wind projects that provide emissions-free energy, healthier air free of mercury and other toxins, and thousands of well-paying, clean energy jobs.
Yet even with the incredible potential long-term benefits, offshore wind power, like all types of energy development, poses risks to the environment and must be developed responsibly.
Currently, the offshore wind projects being proposed off New York are in federal waters. In order to help ensure they are developed in an environmentally sensitive way, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's (NYSERDA) "Environmental Technical Working Group" recently released a set of Best Management Practices for Birds and Bats.
Formed in 2018, the mission of the Environmental Technical Working Group—of which Audubon New York is a member—is to provide stakeholder input on practices to mitigate (avoid, minimize, reduce, or offset) negative effects of offshore wind development on wildlife and ecosystems, as well as practices to measure and understand the effects of development on wildlife.
Wind farm construction and operation can displace vulnerable birds from prime feeding and breeding areas, interfere with their migration routes, and poses a risk of collision. Almost all groups of birds including pelagic, marine, and land birds have the potential to be impacted by offshore wind development.
This spring, a first version of the Best Management Practices for Birds and Bats was finalized, meant to try to reduce risk from collisions (lighting and perching) and address some of the information gaps. It includes:
- Reduce lighting: To avoid and minimize attraction- and disorientation-related impacts to birds and bats, artificial lighting on offshore wind projects (e.g., flight safety and navigation lighting, work-related lighting) should be reduced to the extent possible while maintaining human safety and compliance with FAA, USCG, and BOEM regulations. This should be implemented during all phases of offshore wind energy development, from pre-construction to decommissioning
- Eliminate perching: If perching and roosting is a common occurrence, physical deterrents to perching, such as spikes and netting or other best available technology, should be implemented to the extent that they do not represent a human safety hazard. If necessary, the use of a combination of active deterrents could also be explored, but should be carefully tailored to the bird species present and designed to minimize chances of habituation. Regardless, monitoring should be conducted to determine the effectiveness of implemented deterrent strategies, modify approaches as necessary, and inform adaptive management of future projects.
- Avoid sensitive habitats: Siting and construction of nearshore and onshore project components for offshore wind farms (including but not limited to nearshore export cable routes, landfall sites, onshore cable routes, and onshore substations) should be conducted in such a way as to avoid or minimize the loss or alteration of bird and bat habitat, as well as avoid or minimize disturbance and direct and indirect effects to bird and bat populations and their prey. Specifically, onshore infrastructure (i.e., landfall site, cable routes, substations) and development activities should 1) maximize the use of previously developed or disturbed areas, and 2) avoid unique or protected habitats, as well as habitat for key species, where feasible.
- Conduct adequate monitoring: Pre- and post-construction monitoring should be designed to improve our understanding of the impacts of offshore wind energy development and operations on birds and bats. Specific questions and focal taxa should be chosen for each development project, either based on site-specific avian and bat risk assessment or in relation to broader regional efforts to assess variation between sites and understand cumulative impacts for sensitive species. These questions may focus on collisions, displacement, or other effects, as deemed appropriate for each project site. Monitoring should, to the extent practicable, use appropriate study designs and methodologies to effectively analyze risk prior to construction and evaluate impacts during construction and operation by testing hypotheses and ensuring sufficient statistical power for meaningful data analysis. Outside expertise should, if practicable, be consulted during study design and data analysis processes.
In layman's terms, offshore wind may impact bird populations directly through mortality from collisions with turbine blades (e.g., gulls, terns, sea ducks, alcids, and migrating land birds) and indirectly through displacement from optimal feeding areas or migratory pathways, which can affect population fitness (e.g., sea ducks, loons, and alcids). This committee worked on recommendations to address these potential threats.
The Environmental Technical Working Group is currently working on getting the recommendations from the Committee considered in NY’s procurement process.