The Revelator: Offshore Wind Power is Ready to Boom. Here’s What That Means for Wildlife. Climate change threatens many marine species, but some climate solutions pose risks, too. Researchers say offshore wind needs continued study and better regulations.
A key part of the United States’ clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina are working to procure nearly 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035 — a huge leap from the five turbines currently generating 30 megawatts in Rhode Island waters. If a regulatory backlog of projects awaiting approval from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is finally unstuck — as experts hope will happen this year — the buildout of offshore wind will arrive during a crucial decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten nearly two-thirds of North America’s bird species.
But a study published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.
Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it’s unlikely to be an impediment, research has found.
And it’s possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the “reef effect,” according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island’s Discovery of Sound in the Sea program.
Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC researchers reported.