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Studying the environment to prepare for offshore wind farms in New Jersey

As offshore wind farms in the U.S. move closer to becoming a reality, there are still questions about the potential environmental impacts and best sites for in-the-water wind turbines. Coastal resource managers in New Jersey are getting in front of this burgeoning business by conducting an environmental baseline study that will help guide wind farm development off that state's coastline.

As offshore wind farms in the U.S. move closer to becoming a reality, there are still questions about the potential environmental impacts and best sites for in-the-water wind turbines. Coastal resource managers in New Jersey are getting in front of this burgeoning business by conducting an environmental baseline study that will help guide wind farm development off that state's coastline.

"We are the first in the country to go out and do a comprehensive survey of a large area to get a better idea of where wind farms should go," says Gary Buchanan, manager of the Office of Science at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "I believe our information will help inform wind farm developers about the potential locations that they're thinking about and help inform the whole offshore lease process."

The $7 million study is documenting the number and locations of birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles found in New Jersey's waters, as well as looking at the ocean environment. The study was expected to be complete in 18 months but has been extended because more information was needed, Buchanan says.

"I think it's a good thing that states are doing this type of study," says Maureen Bornholdt,... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

As offshore wind farms in the U.S. move closer to becoming a reality, there are still questions about the potential environmental impacts and best sites for in-the-water wind turbines. Coastal resource managers in New Jersey are getting in front of this burgeoning business by conducting an environmental baseline study that will help guide wind farm development off that state's coastline.

"We are the first in the country to go out and do a comprehensive survey of a large area to get a better idea of where wind farms should go," says Gary Buchanan, manager of the Office of Science at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "I believe our information will help inform wind farm developers about the potential locations that they're thinking about and help inform the whole offshore lease process."

The $7 million study is documenting the number and locations of birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles found in New Jersey's waters, as well as looking at the ocean environment. The study was expected to be complete in 18 months but has been extended because more information was needed, Buchanan says.

"I think it's a good thing that states are doing this type of study," says Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the Office of Renewable Energy Programs at the Minerals Management Service (MMS).

MMS has authority over renewable energy projects on the outer continental shelf, including offshore wind energy. In April, MMS released its final rules governing the development of renewable energy projects.

Bornholdt encourages other states that have the potential for offshore renewable energy development-whether it is wind, wave, or current-to conduct their own assessments focusing on their unique environmental, social, and economic issues, and to partner early with MMS and other federal agencies involved in the permitting process.

"From the get-go," she says, "there was a partnership formed between MMS and New Jersey."

Surging Interest

The U.S has experienced a surge in investment in wind power over the past four years, more than tripling its ability to turn wind into electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But construction has been entirely on land.

While eight countries already have wind turbines sitting offshore, U.S. facilities are still in the planning stages. In June, MMS offered its first exploratory leases for offshore wind development to three companies that plan to place turbines off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware.

The leases allow the companies to build meteorological towers in federal waters to gather data on wind resources, conduct environmental impact studies, and determine the viability of building three wind farms.

Looking Offshore

The reason to look offshore for siting wind farms, says the American Wind Energy Association, is that offshore wind speeds are generally higher and steadier than onshore. Offshore wind farms also can be located closer to large cities and existing transmission lines.

Wind energy also doesn't produce atmospheric emissions that cause ocean acidification or greenhouse gasses that result in climate change.

Some states-particularly in the Northeast-have strong offshore wind resources and very limited opportunities to develop energy facilities on land.

"Some of the best wind resources are offshore in New Jersey," says Buchanan.

Power Potential

New Jersey also has an aggressive mandate to incorporate renewable sources into the state's energy portfolio to help address climate change impacts. The state's goal is to derive 30 percent of its energy from alternative energy-such as wind, solar, and biomass-by 2020.

Output from offshore wind farms could help meet that mandate.

Ruth Ehinger, manager of the New Jersey Coastal Management Office, says the state's goal is to include 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2012, and 3,000 megawatts by 2020.

"We're right out of the starting gate," Bornholdt says, "but I see something generating clean energy in the next five to seven years."

Look Before Leaping

Before embracing offshore wind farm construction, New Jersey wanted to identify and weigh the costs and benefits, and determine if building such facilities would be appropriate off the state's shoreline.

"A big concern was that there isn't that much data the further you go offshore, as far as natural resources," says Ehinger. "It's important to have that information."

In December 2004, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters was appointed to look at both the economic and environmental costs and benefits, and provide policy recommendations.

In its April 2006 final report, the blue ribbon panel found a lack of comprehensive information on potential impacts of offshore wind turbine development. However, it also found that "these facilities show promise as part of New Jersey's long-term energy solution."

Among the panel's recommendations was that a scientific baseline study be conducted.

Fundamental Questions

To meet the directive, Buchanan, working closely with the coastal management office, is leading a technical review committee that includes representatives from MMS and other federal agencies involved in regulating offshore wind farms, and state agencies.

The overall goal of the study, says Buchanan, is to answer fundamental questions regarding which species use what areas and to what degree. The study area is roughly 1,300 square nautical miles off New Jersey's shore that would be potentially viable for energy development.

Using methods that have been employed successfully in European studies of offshore wind power, a contractor has been collecting baseline data on the distribution, abundance, and migratory patterns of avian species, fish, marine mammals, and turtles.

Data have been gathered by physical counts from boats and airplanes, remote sensing by radar and acoustic applications, and literature and historical record reviews.

The data will be used in state-of-the-art predictive modeling, mapping, and environmental assessments to determine what portions of the study area are more or less suitable for wind and alternative energy power facilities based on the potential ecological and environmental impacts.

Waiting for Answers

While a preliminary report was issued in February, Buchanan says the study has been extended an additional six months to collect more comprehensive data. Decision-making based on the study will have to wait until the study is complete.

Even when complete, Buchanan notes that the baseline data "are not designed to answer site-specific, project-specific questions. They are documenting what natural resources are present, which will help in the siting and construction of renewable energy facilities in an environmentally sound manner. . . It will be a road map for the developers to help guide them."

"It's really smart foundational information to have when MMS is evaluating a project on the outer continental shelf," Bornholdt says. "The key messages are understanding what the marine environment is like and the implications of having offshore energy facilities, and partnering with the federal agencies that will be eventually authorizing them."

She adds, "Each state knows what they are faced with, particularly the environmental, social, and economic issues. Each state should customize their data-gathering information to get at those specific issues."

For more information on New Jersey's baseline study, contact Gary Buchanan at (609) 984-6070, or Gary.Buchanan@dep.state.nj.us. For more information on the coastal program's role in siting offshore wind farms, contact Ruth Ehinger at (609) 633-2201, or Ruth.Ehinger@dep.state.nj.us. For more information on MMS guidelines or partnerships, contact Maureen A. Bornholdt at (703) 787-1300, or Maureen.Bornholdt@mms.gov..

Additional Information

  • New Jersey's ecological baseline study reports www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/
  • Final report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters www.state.nj.us/njwindpanel/
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management website on Energy and Government Facility Siting http://coastalmanagement.noaa.gov/ene_gov.html
  • Minerals Management Service Office of Renewable Energy Programs website www.mms.gov/offshore/AlternativeEnergy/

Source: http://csc.noaa.gov/magazin...

SEP 1 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/22394-studying-the-environment-to-prepare-for-offshore-wind-farms-in-new-jersey
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