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A Balancing Act for Environmental Organizations: Pro or Contra Wind Power?

This week, there were two important decisions from European courts dealing with the construction of offshore wind parks. Both applicants were environmental protection organizations. Both times the judiciary decided in favour of the wind power plants.

Image: Katrin RadtkeImage: Katrin Radtke

Again and again there have been complaints and lawsuits against planned wind energy projects. In most cases, this affects onshore wind farms that could endanger birds' nesting sites or bats. But offshore wind power is also increasingly becoming the focus of the judiciary. The plaintiffs are often enough those who have committed themselves to environmental protection. It is always a tightrope walk for the organizations, because climate change caused by CO2 emissions also damages flora and fauna. On the other hand, energy production from renewable sources helps fight climate change.

For example, in 2015, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Europe's largest wildlife protection organization, filed a lawsuit against four offshore wind farms in Scotland with a total capacity of 2,284 MW. According to the organization's studies, the wind farms threaten the lives of thousands of protected seabirds.

After the RSPB won the first instances, the highest Scottish civil court has now dismissed the lawsuit. This means that there is nothing left to prevent the construction of the planned wind farms. Stuart Housden, Director RSPB Scotland: "RSPB Scotland is, of course, hugely disappointed by today's Inner House judgment. Whilst we fully support deployment of renewable energy, this must not be at any cost. Combined, these four huge projects threaten to kill thousands of Scotland's internationally protected seabirds every year, including puffins, gannets and kittiwakes."

Mainstream Renewable Power has already placed first measuring towers in the water (Image: MRP)

In many cases, though, environmentalists and project developers work closely together. Mainstream Renewable Power, one of the developers whose 450 MW Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm was affected by the temporary ban on construction, also stresses that there has been a good cooperation with the RSPB in the past.

However, David Sweenie, Mainstream Renewable Power’s Offshore Manager for Scotland, was relieved about the decision of the court and mainly pointed out the economic benefits of the project: "We welcome the ruling of the Inner House of the Court of Session in favour of Scottish Ministers, overturning last year’s decision by Lord Stewart. This £2bn project is capable of supplying all the homes in a city the size of Edinburgh with clean energy. It will create over 500 jobs during construction and over 100 permanent jobs once operational. More than £540 million will be directly invested in Scotland during the construction phase and a further £610m during the operational phase."

Rapid development of offshore wind power with increasingly larger turbines has already led to a huge change in the project since the construction permit was granted in 2012. Originally planned with 125 turbines, now only 64 turbines are to be installed. Thus the actual number of 'bird traps' reduces, but the individual wind turbines are now much larger than originally planned.

In France, a similar decision in favor of wind power was made this week: Three environmental organizations had filed a joint complaint against the issue of an environmental assessment for the construction of an offshore farm off the coast of Nantes, as reported by various media.

The 480 MW wind farm of the Parc du Banc de Guerande is to be erected just 12 kilometers off the coast - the environmental organizations claim mistakes in the assessment. In this case, however, the plaintiffs did not want to stop the entire project. According to them, it would have been enough to install the farm which is owned by EDF Energies Nouvelles and Enbridge a few kilometers further off the coast. However, the Court dismissed the action - the farm will now be built according to the original plans.

For environmental protection organizations, the topic of wind power remains a tricky one, as is the case with numerous examples from Germany, where the NABU, for example, has files several lawsuits against developers. But the organization is not a total opponent of wind energy: "The fact that we need wind energy in Germany in order to achieve our climate protection targets is beyond question. However, one must not play climate protection against nature conservation, "emphasizes NABU on its homepage.

The organization is calling for clearer rules on nature-compatible expansion of wind energy. The goal must be to avoid conflicts in the planning of new plants and to take nature conservation issues into account from the very beginning. If this is not sufficiently pursued, the organizations will continue to fight against the most environmentally friendly forms of energy generation.

Katrin Radtke
offshore wind, court, lawsuit, France, Scotland, RSPB, NABU, Germany

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