Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RiCORE (Risk Based Consenting of Offshore Renewable Energy Projects)
Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30
The consenting of offshore renewable energy is often cited as one of the main non-technical barriers to the development of this sector. A significant aspect of this is the perceived uncertainty inherent in the potential environmental impacts of novel technologies. To ensure consents are compliant with EU and national legislation, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) and Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), costly and time consuming surveys are required even for perceived lower risk technologies in sites which may not be of highest environmental sensitivity. There is little standardisation across different EU Member States in terms of the regulatory environment, how the consenting process is administered, and the interpretation of EU environmental legislation.
Why is it important for society?
At a global level, there is an urgent need to develop competitive low carbon energy to meet increasing energy demand whilst reducing the impact of anthropogenic driven climate change. Marine Renewable Energy (MRE; defined as offshore wind, wave and tidal energy) has a key role to play as part of the overall energy mix of the European Union as Member States strive to meet their renewable targets. In order to ensure the timely exploitation of our oceans and future sustainable development of MRE, the path from device demonstration through to commercialisation must be able to proceed as efficiently as possible.
What are the overall objectives?
A key objective of the project is to improve consenting processes, by developing an environmental risk based approach, in line with the requirements of the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) (specifically Article 13-1) to ensure cost-efficient delivery of the necessary surveys, clear and transparent reasoning for work undertaken, improving knowledge sharing and reducing the non-technical barriers to the development of the Offshore Renewable Energy sector so that it can deliver clean, secure energy.
There have been three main strands to this work:
a) Understanding what happens in different Member States regarding the consenting process, the application of legislation and any legal barriers to the application of a risk based approach;
b) Examining the potential for developing and using risk profiles in different partner countries;
c) Building the case for more standardisation in pre and post deployment environmental impact monitoring to allow developers, scientists and regulators to better understand the environmental effects of different devices.
The project has used a combination of desk based research and expert workshops. Experts have been engaged from different stakeholder groups including developers, scientists, regulators, legislators, development agencies, academia and representatives of other marine users and special interest groups. The key findings of each of the technical WPs of the project are the following:
a) WP2 Profiling Member State consenting processes and reconciling EU legal requirements: the absence of an ORE-specific consenting process, the lack of clear and focused EIA guidance, and multiple competent authorities are key barriers to project consenting. The legal basis for Adaptive Management is not a problem but entrenched administrative processes may hamper the ability to take an Adaptive Management approach. There appears to be little consistency in the approaches taken to measure or interpret environmental data and information between and within Member States. In many instances the presence of a European protected site or species under nature conservation legislation complicates consenting of ORE projects. Guidance is needed to explain Adaptive Management and risk-based approaches to regulators and developers as well as other marine users.
b) WP3 Survey, Deploy & Monitor: following the description of the SDM policy and the analysis of the case studies different aspects of improvement were identified: (i) extend the risk-based approach to post-consenting processes; (ii) update the criteria for the evaluation of the scale of the project; (iii) establish a set of common criteria for the evaluation of the environmental sensitivity of a specific location; (iv) update and review of the expected environmental impacts of the different technologies; (v) include some guidance on the methodology for pre- and post-consenting monitoring and; (vi) introduce the aspect of uncertainty in the risk based approach. Taking into account the 19 technology types across all three technology categories that were identified and the above mentioned point of improvement, a review and further development of the three main pillars on which the SDM approach is based was undertaken: (i) environmental sensitivity of the site, (ii) the risk profile of the technology and (iii) the scale of the proposed project.
c) WP4 Pre-consent survey optimization: information on pre-consent monitoring practices has been compiled for the assessment of the effects of MRE developments on relevant receptors (seabirds, marine mammals, fish and shellfish and the seabed and benthic environment). In general, methodologies to assess most of the parameters identified for each receptor seemed to be applicable to all MRE types. A compilation was also made of the innovative technologies that are currently being developed for marine environment monitoring. The costs of many of the listed approaches were also considered and it was found that these costs varied substantially among receptor groups. Although the cost is an important consideration in survey design, the logistical constraints and the requirements requested by regulators should be coupled to ensure that these can be met by selecting a suitable survey method. The use of power analysis can provide useful information on the ability of data gathered to create a baseline for detecting change. It is likely to become a commonly used approach in pre-consent survey design, as it can identify how much data are required to address the requests made by regulators and at the same time contribute to a better understanding of the costs involved, considering the data that already exists. It is considered unlikely that pre-consent site characterization surveys will have sufficient statistical power for fully achieving this purpose and their main utility is to inform consenting decisions. The information gathered supports the development of guidance on pre-consent surveys taking into account risk based approaches such as SDM, and is available through the project website.
d) WP5 Post-Consent & Post-Deployment monitoring standardization: Under this work package workshop attendees provided feedback on post-consent monitoring approaches during workshops, details of which are contained in the workshop reports. The further tasks were to review the suitability of Adaptive Management as a policy approach to guide post-consent monitoring that is able to meaningfully inform risk-based consenting of marine renewable energy by reducing key scientific uncertainties that could serve to delay decision making by regulators. Examples of applying the approach are considered and recommendations on good practice provided. The RiCORE project has identified that post-consent monitoring that is able to meaningfully reduce key scientific uncertainties remains challenging owing to a range of issues relating to the scientific quality of studies that are undertaken. The need for a question-led approach, study designs that can provide sufficient relevant information and the need for decision makers to engage with the issues associated with sampling intensity and statistical power were reviewed. Recommendations to enable regulators to apply risk-based approaches that can provide them with greater confidence were also made.
- Replicability: the RiCORE project presents the current status of risk-based approaches to consenting of ORE projects in selected countries of the EU. This information acts as a baseline and in future could be updated by other projects exploring a related topic.
- Environment: one of the major concerns of stakeholders, which impacts upon public acceptance, is the potential environmental impacts of ocean renewable energy. Due to the limited number of devices in the water at this time, empirical data is scarce. More deployments of environmentally low-risk projects are needed to increase the confidence of risk assessments in general. The implementation of the risk based approach to consenting developed under RiCORE, will help deliver these pioneering projects enabling devices to be deployed whilst simultaneously ensuring that possible environmental effects have been thoroughly taken into account in the consenting process.
- Socio-economics: with the implementation of the risk based approach the concerns of stakeholders mentioned above should be addressed, which in turn should lead to sustained public acceptance of these technologies. A comprehensive review of consenting processes in place also highlights how stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process currently and highlights where there are opportunities for stronger involvement.
- Market Transformation: although not directly addressing business models and finance schemes, the reduction of the regulatory risk promoted by the application of the risk-based approach developed under RiCORE, is going to provide greater certainty to those investing in and/or developing ORE projects. Reducing the time taken to consent projects will directly impact upon development costs and project timelines thereby increasing the attractiveness of the sector to investors. The costs analysis made under the RiCORE project towards a more efficient environmental assessment will contribute to the improvement of projects’ business models.
- Policy: Policy guidance on how risk based consenting can be applied across Member States and on the benefits that this would bring to ocean energy has been produced in the project. The outputs of the project are available to all regions and nations to use and adopt but specifically for EU Member States there is consideration of how a risk-based approach sits with current EU law and policy, specifically in relation to the EIA Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives. The RiCORE project has been specifically acknowledged and included in the European Commission’s Ocean Energy Forum and related Draft Ocean Energy Strategic Roadmap in relation to how it can assist in developing a risk-based licensing approach.
- Expected impact stated in the Call Topic: by adopting the recommendations of the RiCORE project, there is potential to improve the time to market for these technologies. Similarly consenting authorities have been made aware of the benefits of a risk-based approach to project consenting which, if taken onboard, will improve the process making it more efficient and cost effective. More clarity of consenting requirements may also result in better access to finance and increased public acceptance as stakeholders are more aware of the type of environmental monitoring required and the reasons behind this.
The risk based approach allows early specification of the scale and duration of habitat and wildlife surveys appropriate to the risk profile of the proposed deployment and hence provides greater clarity on what is required from developers in terms of pre-application site-characterisation data. If Member States adopt this approach time taken for processing consent applications should be reduced. This has consequent implications for development costs: in sites of lower environmental sensitivity developers have the potential to save the costs for one year of survey work by reducing the survey work by up to 50%.