Georgia Buoys Offshore Wind Power

Guest Blog | April 17, 2014 | Energy Policy, Wind
Potential design of a meteorological tower. Source: BOEM

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) just recently released a “finding of no significant impact” for Southern Company’s proposed offshore wind energy study equipment. The draft environmental assessment found that a meteorological tower or buoys offshore Georgia would have negligible environmental impacts.

If the environmental assessment by BOEM is finalized, Southern Company may be allowed to lease three areas offshore near Tybee Island, Georgia. In those three lease blocks, Southern Company would be permitted to install “a meteorological tower and/or up to two buoys for data collection.” The lease and data collection could continue for up to five years. A separate process is required for development of an offshore wind farm, but data collection is a vital step before a company decides to further invest in offshore wind development. Developing an offshore wind farm off Georgia’s coast is not a foregone conclusion.

The environmental assessment for Southern Company’s activities comes about a week before a group of environmental organizations announced a lawsuit that may have implications for the offshore wind industry along the Atlantic Coast. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation lawsuit would expand critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales – a critically endangered species (only about 450 individuals exist). The critical habitat designation would limit activities offshore that may harm North Atlantic right whales, potentially including activities associated with offshore wind development.

Potential design of a meteorological buoy. Source: BOEM

Georgia’s coastal areas are known calving grounds for North Atlantic right whales and some organizations submitted comments opposing Southern Company’s application to install a meteorological tower and/or buoys off Georgia’s coast. One argument is that data gaps exist with regards to North Atlantic right whales, so installation of a meteorological tower or buoys may pose a threat to the whales. Ironically, monitoring the marine environment may help close some of those data gaps and could lead to better conservation plans and protection. It’s a classic Catch-22 – we need more data to better protect North Atlantic right whales, but collecting that data may pose a risk to the whales.

What is fairly well known is that without the development of renewable energy, Northern Atlantic right whales may still be imperiled. The environmental assessment for the meteorological tower and/or buoys found that “the North Atlantic right whale habitat is likely vulnerable to climate change.” Offshore wind energy is a resource that could help solve our climate change problem and thus help the whales and other species in the long term.

BOEM is collecting public comments until May 2, 2014.  BOEM is also hosting two open house sessions next week in Savannah and Tybee IslandYou can submit a comment by following this link.


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