The $100 billion offshore wind industry has a whale problem

The environmental impact of offshore wind on marine ecosystems

The offshore wind industry has been making headlines recently, not just for its positive impact on the environment, but for the potential negative impact on marine life, particularly whales. Since December, around two dozen large whales have washed up on or near beaches on the U.S. Atlantic coast, with about a third of these strandings occurring on the shores of New Jersey. Although the cause of these whale deaths is unknown, some groups have pointed to offshore wind development as the culprit.

A group made up of wind opponents, local environmental groups, and conservative talk show hosts have blamed offshore wind for the unusual number of deceased whales. They claim that ongoing offshore wind development is disrupting marine life and leading to these mortalities. However, the government and companies behind the wind projects are standing firm, stating that there is no evidence linking the whale deaths to offshore wind development. According to the American Clean Power Association, opponents of clean energy development are spreading misinformation to halt clean energy deployment along the East Coast.

The issue has garnered national attention, with conservation organizations and a coalition of a dozen New Jersey mayors calling on Washington officials to halt offshore development activities near the state. Climate-conscious news outlets are fact-checking the campaigns against offshore wind, while conservative talk show hosts claim outright that wind projects are killing whales. Some of those blaming offshore wind have ties to conservative groups that have long opposed clean energy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been tracking an “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales along the Atlantic coast since 2016. Of the approximately 180 whale strandings NOAA has tracked since then, close to half have been examined. Roughly 40% showed evidence of a ship strike or entanglement connected to the cause of death. However, none of these whale deaths have been linked directly to offshore wind development.

Despite this, some marine scientists and wind-power opponents argue that the lack of a proven connection doesn’t rule out the existence of one. They worry that activities associated with offshore wind development, such as the driving of supports into the sea floor, can harm marine life. The chief of the protected species branch at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Sean Hayes, warned ocean energy regulators last year that “additional noise, vessel traffic, and habitat modifications due to offshore wind development will likely cause added stress” to whales and “result in additional population consequences” to the species.

Environmental groups have also emphasized that while the latest whale deaths aren’t tied to ongoing activity, more needs to be done to protect marine life from an array of threats, including future wind farm construction. They believe that any type of ocean industry will pose risks to the environment, and it’s important to advance this new industry in a smart way because “ocean life is already struggling to adapt to climate change and has been stressed from decades of pollution and habitat destruction.”

New Jersey remains firm on its offshore wind goals, despite the controversy. However, this issue has created a new headache for wind developers, who are pushing back on claims that their projects are hurting marine life. Vineyard Wind and Ørsted, two of the biggest offshore wind developers, state that their vessels are highly regulated, with outside observers watching for any disturbance to marine life. Whale deaths are only the most recent obstacle for offshore wind, which has also had to contend with inflation, high-interest rates, and supply chain issues that have threatened to derail projects along the East Coast.

In conclusion, while there is currently no established link between offshore wind farms and whale deaths, it is important to recognize the potential impact of this new industry on marine ecosystems. As such, it is essential for developers and regulators to collaborate in order to promote responsible development and minimize any negative impact on the environment. This includes adopting best practices for construction, operation, and maintenance of wind turbines, as well as conducting thorough environmental impact assessments prior to the establishment of any new projects. By prioritizing sustainability and environmental protection, the offshore wind industry can play an important role in addressing the challenges of climate change while also ensuring the well-being of marine life and ecosystems.In conclusion, while the potential link between offshore wind and whale deaths is yet to be established, the issue highlights the need for responsible development of this new industry to minimize its environmental impact. Developers and regulators must work together to ensure that the industry grows sustainably, in a way that supports the environment, protects marine life, and benefits