Marine Spatial Planning: Key to Informed Offshore Wind, Renewable Energy Planning and Decision-Making

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A comprehensive study of human activity and ecosystems in mid-Atlantic waters off the coast of Delaware by the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration (CCPI) helps establish a basis for more informed planning and decision-making regarding the development of offshore wind and other marine renewable energy projects.

While offshore wind power installations are cropping up and supplying clean, renewable electricity across Europe, the US has yet to build one offshore wind farm. There are some 20 projects with a total rated capacity of 2,000 MW in the planning and permitting stages, however, according to the UD-CCPI report. Mid-Atlantic Ocean waters off Delaware and New Jersey are home to four of them with a total 1,500 MW capacity.

“This report lays the groundwork for the State of Delaware to advance the planning for offshore wind infrastructure as well as consider other uses that may be conflicting, the authors of “Delaware Marine Spatial Planning; Offshore Wind Context,” wrote.

Offshore Wind and Marine Renewable Energy: Establishing a Basis for Inclusive, Informed Decision-Making

Informing planners, other decision-makers and a broad array of stakeholders regarding the development of ocean renewable energy resources, offshore wind energy in particular, is “a major driver of current MSP (Marine Spatial Planning) efforts in the mid-Atlantic,” the report authors note, where offshore winds hold an estimated 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of power.

In addition to the sheer magnitude of offshore wind energy potential, other attributes add to the attractiveness of developing oceanic renewable energy resources. Regarding offshore wind energy, “the resource is close to large, densely populated areas where electricity rates are high, demand for power is growing steadily, and where land-based wind development is constrained,” the authors point out.

Though many may not realize, think about or look into it much, if at all, there’s a lot of human activity going on in US coastal zones and open ocean waters. That’s in addition to all the life and physical processes associated with the diversity of marine life forms and environments. Marine life habitat and population conservation, commercial shipping and fishing activity, recreational fishing, boating and shoreline activities, military and defense uses, waste streams and disposal, and now oceanic renewable energy all figure into the mix.

Just coming to grips with the amount of data that needs to be gathered and organized, then adequately processed and analyzed to yield an adequate understanding of not only the individual activities but how they interrelate across and within the marine ecosystem and biome is a daunting challenge. Added to that is the need to balance the often conflicting wants and needs of all the stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes that determine how our society will make use of its marine and coastal zones.

Overwhelming in size and scope, ocean science and policy requires focused, sustained and well-coordinated efforts across the public and private sector spheres. Pres. Obama’s signing of Executive Order 13547 in July, 2010 enacted a “National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes,” that establishes a stronger, more coordinated public-private institutional framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), the report authors recount, one intended to “address conservation, economic activity, user conflict and sustainable use of offshore areas.”

One of nine National Ocean Policy priority objectives, CMSP will be the basis “for analyzing current and anticipated ocean uses and identifying areas most suitable for various types of classes of activities,” across nine proposed planning areas across the US, the report authors explain.

Key Enabler: Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

MSP is also the enabling methodology and toolkit serving as the fifth priority area identified in the Mid-Atlantic Governor’s Agreement on Ocean Conservation (MARCO) that the governors of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia signed in 2011. MSP is essentially the means by which goals set in the other four priority areas– ocean habitat protection, climate change adaptation, offshore renewable energy and water quality improvement– will be attained.

“Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) represents a powerful method for reconciling diverse and often seemingly overlapping needs of ocean users,” the report’s authors explain. “It aspires to be future-oriented rather than reactionary, making it an effective means for implementing ecosystem-based management that provides guidance in determining appropriate sites for future uses.

“Particularly when supplemented with stakeholder input, MSP can satisfy the goals of offshore wind developers, the commercial shipping industry, the fishing community, the conservation community, and local recreational users by facilitating a transparent, engaging and empowering approach to ocean planning.”

Carrying out their preliminary analysis, UD-CCPI researchers found that “some ocean space conflicts will exist, especially closer to shore where human uses have been established and represent significant commercial interests.” Among these the report lists designated commercial shipping lanes, anchorage areas, sections of the seafloor known to contain unexploded ordinances, designated sand borrow sites, artificial reefs, dump sites, shipwrecks, and residual mine areas.

The authors also recommend establishing limited buffer zones around military installations, and a scenic buffer zone around the Assateague Island National Seashore if the erection of wind turbines would significantly and adversely “affect public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment.”

In addition, the authors recommend that known essential fish habitat and biodiversity hotspots “need to be considered and potentially avoided.” Finally, marine and coastal zone planners should consider excluding offshore wind farm construction from dense areas of high commercial ship traffic.

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