Report finds MHK deployments at EMEC do not adversely affect wildlife

Marine hydrokinetic (MHK) tidal and wave energy conversion systems deployed at European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) sites in Orkney, Scotland, do not adversely affect wildlife, according to a report released this week that contains “a detailed analysis of the vast number of observations collected since 2005.”

The report containing the analysis is called, “Analysis of the possible displacement of bird and marine mammal species related to the installation and operation of marine energy conversion systems.” The report was commissioned in 2014 by the government-funded Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which worked in conjunction with Marine Scotland and EMEC to further improve understanding of how these new technologies influence marine wildlife.

The SNH study investigated how species distribution and density varied across the test sites, relative to different levels of site-testing activity, over the 10-year period. Comparisons were made among the number of animals present before any turbines or their support structures were in place; when support structures only were in place; when turbines were in place; and when turbines were in place and operational.

EMEC Consents and Project Officer, Caitlin Long, was part of the research effort.

“This project was set up to assist the industry in developing an understanding of the potential wildlife displacement associated with the deployment of marine energy devices,” said Long, in a press release. “The culmination of the extensive wildlife observation program and this statistical analysis project should aid regulators, advisory bodies and developers in assessing the potential environmental effects of deploying such devices in our precious marine environment.”

Scientists posit that increased boat activity associated with the initial construction of the devices might cause the temporary disturbance and displacement of some species, but numbers recover once this busy phase of activity is complete and the tidal turbines are operational. For some species observed at the sites, the patterns of change found may in fact be due to population-wide variances, which are not directly linked to the activities around the test areas.

According to SNH, its statistical analysis included about 10,000 hours of observations at the Fall of Warness tidal test site off Eday that indicated a change in density and redistribution of some bird species when construction work started. The birds affected included the great northern diver, black and common guillemot, cormorants, shags, ducks and geese. However, in nearly all cases, numbers returned to around previous levels once the tidal turbines were installed and operational. Observations of seals, whales and dolphins revealed similar findings.

At the Billia Croo wave test site, near Stromness, around 6,500 hours of observations were completed, but no significant changes in distribution or density of birds or mammals around the test facilities were detected.

The development of renewable energy technologies and the surveillance and monitoring work at EMEC sites are helping to achieve the 2020 Challenge for Biodiversity outcome, according to SNH, where Scotland’s marine and coastal environments are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse, meeting the long-term needs of the people and nature.

In 2016, reported environmental concerns surfaced at Canada’s Fundy Ocean Research Center with regard to Cape Sharp Tidal’s joint venture between Emera Inc. and OpenHydro before its scheduled deployment of a set of 2-MW Open-Centre ducted tidal turbines.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), area fishermen, scientists and the general public expressed concerns about appropriate monitoring measures in place prior to moving forward with installing and operating the first two experimental turbines.

According to DFO, “insufficient research and monitoring had been undertaken to evaluate the effects of the [turbine] on valued ecosystem components of the Bay of Fundy.”

The provincial government and FORCE have done more than 70 impact studies ahead of the project. If the first phase of the project is successful, Cape Sharp Tidal said the development could grow to an output of 16 MW [six more turbines] in 2017; 50 MW [17 more turbines] in 2019; and up to 300 MW [150 more turbines] of energy in the 2020s.

Cape Sharp tidal estimates the system could eventually generate power for nearly 75,000 customers.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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