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Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Draft Plan for Offshore Wind Energy in Scottish Territorial Waters: Volume 1: Environmental Report

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1 Introduction

1.1 This Strategic Environmental Assessment

The Scottish Government is developing a Plan for the advancement of its offshore wind energy industry (called 'the Plan' in this report). This environmental report sets out the findings from the Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) of the Plan.

This environmental report is intended to:

  • consider the environmental issues of the draft Plan for licensing wind energy development in Scottish Territorial Waters ( STW), and any reasonable alternatives;
  • inform the Scottish Government's decision on the draft Plan (as an iterative process);
  • where possible, ensure likely significant adverse environmental effects are avoided, mitigated or reduced where possible and these facts are communicated and monitored; and
  • provide an early and effective opportunity for the SEA Consultation Authorities and the public to offer views on any aspect of this Environmental Report (ER) and draft Plan.

1.2 Background to the Draft Plan

Climate change and our response to managing its consequences is a major challenge facing the environment and society today, from the local to the global level. Offshore wind energy development is expected to play a major role in Scotland's contribution to the permanent reduction of the impacts of climate change by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to generating 20% of all energy and 50% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020. This requires that the current capacity of 4 GW is doubled to 8 GW. The draft Plan has been developed to meet Scottish Ministers' commitments to realising the environmental benefits associated with renewable energy and to provide Scotland with a better mix of sources of power, by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The draft Plan sets out short term (2010 - 2020), medium term (2020 - 2030) and long term (2030+) options for offshore wind energy development.

The development of the draft Plan was initially prompted by an invitation to developers by The Crown Estate to propose areas they would like to lease for wind energy developments in STW. The Crown Estate has now entered into exclusivity agreements with nine developers for ten sites in STW. However, whilst there may be early opportunities to progress developments in these areas, it is important that full consideration is given to the capacity of different parts of Scotland's marine environment to accommodate offshore wind energy developments. The draft Plan therefore sets them within a broader framework for development that considers capacity from a national perspective.

The development of the draft Plan and its SEA have been carried out in parallel. Preferred options for the draft Plan were developed using a range of techniques including mapping of environmental baseline information and technical constraints to identify potential areas for offshore wind farms. The SEA developed a set of objectives relating to the different environmental resources that were being considered, and the options were tested against each of them.

The diagram below shows the process that has been, and will continue to be, undertaken to develop and implement the Plan and undertake any associated environmental assessments.

Throughout the development of the draft Plan and SEA, extensive consultation has been carried out. This has included a series of meetings and pre-consultation workshops with the following organisations:

  • Scottish Natural Heritage;
  • Historic Scotland;
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency;
  • Marine Scotland Steering Group;
  • representatives of wind energy industry;
  • representatives of fishing industry;
  • representatives of shipping industry; and
  • Non Governmental Organisations, such as the RSPB.

The consultation undertaken to date has ensured that the interests of the various groups have been taken into account in the SEA and development of the draft Plan.

Relationship Between Environmental Report, Plan and Project Consenting

1.3 Key elements of the Draft Plan

Key elements of the draft Plan are set out in Table 1-1.

Table 1-1: Key Elements of the Draft Plan

Name of Responsible Authority

Marine Scotland, Scottish Government

Title of Plan

The Plan for Offshore Wind Energy in Scottish Territorial Waters

What prompted the Plan

The development of the Plan was initially prompted by the identification of ten preferred areas by The Crown Estate for leasing to allow development of offshore wind farms. However, whilst it was recognised that there may be early opportunities to progress developments in these areas, it was equally important that full consideration was given to the varying capacity of different parts of Scotland's marine environment to accommodate offshore wind energy developments.

Purpose of Plan

To provide a framework for progressing the development of offshore wind energy projects in STW.

Subject

Renewable energy, marine planning and environment

Period covered by Plan

Not specified

Frequency of updates

The Plan will be reviewed every two years at which point it will be decided if an update of the SEA is appropriate.

Area covered by Plan

In the short term the plan applies to ten possible development sites. In the medium and long term the plan covers all areas within STW (within 12 nautical miles from the coast).

Purpose and/or objectives of Plan

The Plan is intended to:

  • define a national strategy for the development of offshore wind energy in STW over the short, medium and long term;
  • set out a regional framework for offshore wind energy development, based on an assessment of environmental and technical capacity; and
  • identify where sites could be prioritised for leasing, and other areas where development may require further assessment and planning before they are progressed, as a result of their environmental constraints.

Contact point

Alison Groat (Marine Scotland)

T: 0131 244 1617

E: Alison.Groat@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

The draft Plan in the short term (2010-2020) considers the development of up to ten sites for which The Crown Estate has granted exclusivity agreements to developers (see Figure 1-1). The SEA assesses the potential high level effects of developing each and all of these sites.

Planning for the medium term (2020-2030) initially identified 30 broad areas with the potential for development in the medium term. These potential areas were selected through a mapping exercise that addressed possible constraints to development (both technical and environmental). This enabled sites (known as 'options') with the fewest constraints to development to be identified from the outset. The SEA assessed the potential high level effects of developing any or all of these options.

The process to identify the medium and long term areas is set out in Chapter 3 of the draft Plan. Areas for exclusion from development were identified (these are listed in Table 7.2 in Chapter 7). Areas with least environmental sensitivities were identified and overlaid with areas of technical constraints to highlight areas with potential for development in the medium term.

The remainder of the Scottish Territorial Waters may be suitable for development in the longer term (2030+). Although not immediately suitable, with changes to technology and knowledge, areas beyond those identified under the short or medium term options may become more feasible in the future. Given this uncertainty, the SEA does not consider the potential effects of developing long term options.

As outlined in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2009, Marine Spatial Planning will be used to ensure that all new development types are considered and the best use of the resources in STW is made. This document therefore provides valuable input to the future Marine Spatial Planning process.

Figure 1-1: Overview, division of areas and short term options

Figure 1-1: Overview, division of areas and short term options

1.4 Structure of this Environmental Report ( ER)

The structure of this document is set out as follows:

1.5 Screening and Scoping of the ER

The screening and scoping stages have been completed for the Plan (Appendix 1.1). The process is summarised in section 2.2.

1.6 Legal Requirement for SEA

SEA is required under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, which transposes EU Directive 2001/42/ EC on the Assessment of the Effects of Certain Plans and Programmes on the Environment (the SEA Directive). Its purpose is to enable plan-making authorities to incorporate environmental considerations into decision-making at an early stage and in an integrated manner. As the Plan falls within the scope of Section 5(4) of the 2005 Act and as it has been determined that it is likely to have significant environmental effects, an SEA has been undertaken.

It should be noted that SEA is a different process to Environmental Impact Assessment ( EIA). This is considered further in sections 3.1 and 3.2.

1.7 Further Consultation on the ER

This ER is now available for consultation and will be formally issued to the SEA Consultation Authorities, namely the Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) and Historic Scotland, during the 12 week consultation period. The public and other organisations are also invited to take part in the consultation at this stage.

1.8 Scope of this ER

The SEA considers the full life cycle of the development including preconstruction assessments (e.g. geophysical survey), construction, operation and decommissioning. Connecting the wind farms to the national grid system is clearly of fundamental importance. Strengthening of the national grid system, possibly with marine interconnectors, will be required. However, those designs are not sufficiently advanced to be addressed as part of this draft Plan and SEA. Therefore, this SEA considers development aspects as far as the sea-shore and does not consider shore-based development. Similarly, it is not possible to anticipate technological developments in the wind industry and entirely future-proof this SEA. It therefore considers current technologies that may reasonably be expected to be proven within the next 3-5 years. Whilst there are no standard review timescales set for amendments to the Plan it will be prudent to review the Plan and SEA if there are any significant changes to technology or if our understanding of the marine environment changes.

A prime function of this SEA is to produce a tool that facilitates development in a sustainable way, rather than act as a compendium of all available information. Consequently, this SEA takes a high level perspective and focuses on:

  • key aspects of offshore wind energy development that may give rise to significant environmental effects at a strategic level; and
  • key environmental features that may be affected at a Scotland-wide level.

As a result, the SEA has drawn conclusions on significant effects from a national perspective. The SEA differentiates between issues that are truly strategic and those that would be better, and more appropriately, managed at the 'project' level.

1.9 Source Information for this ER

There is a wealth of strategic level information already published from previous SEAs. Key documents are outlined in the Scoping Report and include:

  • Offshore Energy SEA (Department of Energy and Climate Change ( DECC, 2009a);
  • Marine Energy SEA (wave and tidal) (Faber Maunsell and Metoc, 2007 on behalf of Scottish Government ( DECC, 2007));
  • Scottish Marine Bill SEA: Environmental Report (Faber Maunsell Ltd, 2008 on behalf of Scottish Government);
  • Regional/local level marine energy studies - e.g. Irish Sea Pilot ( JNCC, 2004); and
  • Discussion documents for East and West Coast Cumulative Impact Papers (Royal Haskoning, 2009).

These documents present descriptions of the potential impacts associated with offshore wind energy development and the existing environment.

The DECC (2009a) study explored the effects of offshore wind but outside of the 12nm limit and the Scottish Government's Marine Energy SEA ( DECC, 2007) focuses on wave and tidal power in parts of Scottish waters. The East and West Coast Cumulative Impact Papers (Royal Haskoning 2009) identify the range of cumulative effects and sensitivities that need to be addressed in their respective areas.

Where sources of information have been already published, this SEA draws on those findings to provide a broad understanding of the context. No survey work was carried out to support this SEA; instead, desk based studies, collation and interpretation of existing information were utilised to produce a baseline for the assessment. This approach is considered appropriate within an SEA at this scale, and within this context.

Figure 1-2 sets out how the various published SEAERs and studies fit together.

Figure 1-2: Relationship between existing SEAs and studies

Figure 1-2: Relationship between existing SEAs and studies

1.10 Habitats Regulations Appraisal

In parallel with this SEA the first stage of screening for a Habitats Regulations Appraisal ( HRA) has been carried out. An HRA is required where any plan, alone or 'in combination' with other plans, could have an adverse effect on the integrity of 'Natura 2000' sites. These include:

  • Special Areas of Conservation ( SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/ EEC);
  • Special Protection Areas ( SPAs) designated under the Wild Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/ EEC);
  • Ramsar sites. The UK is party to the International Convention on Wetlands, which designates 'Ramsar' sites.

SACs, SPAs and Ramsar sites are collectively referred to as 'international' sites. The HRA is also examining candidate international sites that are awaiting official designation.

The pre-screening HRA report incorporated preliminary assessment of the effects of the ten short term options on 161 international sites, including international sites in the territorial waters of other countries, due to the highly mobile nature of some species in the assessment. The principal potentially significant impacts identified related to habitat loss or degradation and direct or indirect impacts on various fauna. These included, for example, qualifying bird species identified to be at risk of collision, barriers to migration, disturbance to flight patterns or avoidance of feeding grounds as well as indirect potential impacts to their habitat or food chain. Different impacts were listed for the different phases of wind farm development, i.e. survey, construction, operation and decommissioning.

The impacts identified in the HRA were shown to affect a variety of receptors, the 'qualifying features' of the international sites. These included:

  • sub-tidal and intertidal habitats
  • a wide variety of birds, particularly seabirds
  • marine mammals, including cetaceans, seals and otters
  • migratory fish

A second stage of screening was considered necessary in order to make use of a wider evidence base, fill some of the identified data gaps with new research and to collate and utilise the responses of consultees. This will determine the likely significant effects of the Plan on the integrity of the international sites and identify which international sites will need an HRA carried out on them. The HRA will ultimately determine whether the significant effects would be adverse and recommend avoidance and mitigation measures. The early work on the HRA process has informed the assessment of the SEA topic of 'biodiversity' in the SEA.