Environmental impacts of decommissioning : onshore versus offshore wind farms

Hall, Rebecca and João, Elsa and Knapp, Charles W. (2020) Environmental impacts of decommissioning : onshore versus offshore wind farms. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 83. 106404. ISSN 0195-9255

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    Abstract

    Increasing concerns over climate change have prompted rapid growth of renewable energy over the past few decades, particularly wind energy. However, as the installation of wind farms rises, so will the need for decommissioning and analysis of the environmental impacts associated with decommissioning. This paper investigates how Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA) identify, estimate and manage potential impacts of decommissioning. EIAs from 12 onshore and offshore windfarms consented between 2009 and 2014 in England and Scotland were analysed and compared. Attributes of these windfarms' Environmental Statements (ES) were scored under six categories: decommissioning in EIA stages, definitions of decommissioning, amount of analysis, depth of analysis, impacts identified, and proactive planning. Onshore windfarms generally tended to investigate the impacts of decommissioning less than offshore windfarms, even those which gained consent in the same year. The investigation of the impact of decommissioning improved for windfarms consented in the latter years of the study period. Across the ESs there was a lack of analysis of potential impacts from decommissioning in their own right: not simply as a reversal of the construction process. The impacts of different end of life scenarios were not analysed in any of the ESs studied. There is evidence to suggest the presence of windfarms, especially offshore, could in some cases be environmentally beneficial for certain species. However, the ecological impact of removing offshore structures at the end of life is unknown and is currently not investigated nor predicted in EIAs. Understanding the potential implications of full or partial removal of marine structures, or alternatives to decommissioning, could ensure that appropriate mitigation is considered at an early stage by both developer and consenting authority. That being said, it is also important to update the assessment of potential impacts over the life of the project as more information on the environment is gathered and end of life plans develop.