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Environmental proceeding for the offshore wind farms in Poland

 

Very shortly a Spatial development plan for internal sea waters, territorial sea, and the exclusive economic zone on a scale of 1: 200,000 will be adopted, which will unblock the awarding of new concessions for the construction of further wind farms in the Baltic Sea. Entities that hope for offshore investment in the polish sea areas, will however have to face many procedures, primarily regards environmental protection.

 

Offshore wind power provides a valuable source of renewable energy that can help reduce carbon emissions. It is also a great investment opportunity for Poland, drawing from its access to the sea, and a step towards Poland's energy transformation.

 

Major environmental concerns

Concerns regarding construction and operation-related impacts on marine species, protected areas, biotopes, and habitats are reviewed as part of the complex and lengthy approval process for offshore wind farms. The procedures leading to building permit obtainment, although might seem exaggerated, are crucial to assess the possible impacts and take adequate measures to prevent deterioration of the environment.

 

There is still much that is unknown about the effects on the environment and the impact depends on specific conditions, therefore it is always necessary to provide every project with proper environmental researches with specific conclusions.

 

The major environmental concerns related to offshore wind developments can be however identified, and they include[1]:

  • increased noise levels,
  • risk of collisions,
  • changes to benthic and pelagic habitats,
  • alterations to food webs,
  • pollution from increased vessel traffic,
  • release of contaminants from seabed sediments.

 

No less important are the cumulative impacts, defined as a result of incremental changes caused by other past, present or foreseeable actions together with the project.

 

Environmental procedures

Although the purpose of offshore wind energy is to combat climate changes and protect nature, the impact on the environment of the investment should not be underestimated. To prevent the negative impact on the wildlife or people, an environmental impact assessment procedure (EIA) is carried out.

 

In the case of offshore wind farms, which are classified as projects that can always significantly affect the environment[2], the competent Director of the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection carries out an EIA procedure, which in practice means the need to prepare a comprehensive EIA report, preceded by extensive environmental research both on land and the sea. As a result of the EIA procedure, the decision on environmental conditions, necessary to obtain other permits enabling the implementation of OWF is issued.

 

The EIA report should contain information about the planned project, the description of the environment in the project's location – both land and sea, and an analysis of the relation between the elements of the environment and the planned project. The detailed scope of the environmental report is described by Art. 66 of the Assessment Act[3]. The task of the EIA report is to determine the impact of the planned project on individual elements of the environment, including people, considering the location, design, technological, technical, and organizational solutions adopted by the investor.

 

The EIA procedure examines the project's impacts, in particular, on benthos, fish, birds, marine mammals, protected areas, and biotopes. Based on this analysis and following reviews and comments of other authorities with opinions resulting from public consultations, the Regional Director of Environmental Protection, appropriate in relation to the maritime area along the coast in a given voivodeship of the offshore project, issues an administrative decision on environmental conditions.

 

Conditions specified in the environmental decision determine how the investment can be carried out to minimize the deterioration of the environment. The environmental decision indicates actions not only focused on the initial stage of the OWF but also results in obligations regards the operation faze, including constant monitoring of wildlife and seabed with the inspections of the bottom sediments.

 

Environmental procedures scope of work

Preparation of a complex and extensive document like the EIA report for the OWF requires a wide team of specialists and an experienced coordinator who will not only manage a diverse team but also ensure internal communication between project members. This allows to monitor the project as a whole, control progress, and find weaknesses in advance to prevent future difficulties.

 

The tasks regarding the environmental procedure, gathered in the EIA report, based on requirements laid down in the Assessment Act[4] include:

  • qualification of the project[5],
  • arrangements of strategic and planning documents (international and EU documents, national and regional documents, conclusions resulting from strategic and planning documents, information on the links between the OWF and other ventures,
  • description of technology of the planned project (consistent with the application for the construction of artificial islands, based on the data provided by the Investor),
  • risk of major failures or natural and construction disasters,
  • environmental conditions description (based on monitoring data and publicly available data)
  • modeling prepared for the project impact assessment,
  • assessment of the project's environmental impact in the variant proposed by the applicant during construction, operation, and decommissioning phase, including impact on:

      - geological structure, bottom sediments, availability of raw materials and deposits,

      - marine waters and the quality of marine waters and sediments,

      - climate, including greenhouse gas emissions and impacts relevant to adaptation to climate change, impact on atmospheric air (air cleanliness),

      - nature and protected areas, including biotic features in the marine area,

      - Natura 2000 protected areas,

      - ecological corridors,

      - biodiversity,

      - cultural values, monuments as well as archaeological sites and objects,

      - use and development of the basin and material goods,

      - landscape, including cultural landscape,

      - population, health and living conditions of people,

  • description of the alternative, a rational variant in the construction, operation, and decommissioning phase,
  • assessment of the impact on Natura 2000 areas,
  • cumulative impacts of the planned project (including existing, implemented, and planned projects and activities),
  • transboundary impact,
  • analysis and comparison of the considered variants and the variant most beneficial for the environment,
  • comparison of the proposed technology with the technology that meets the requirements referred to in Art. 143 of the Environmental Protection Law,
  • description of anticipated activities aimed at avoiding, preventing, and limiting negative impacts on the environment,
  • proposed monitoring of the impact of the planned project and information on the available results of other monitoring that may be important for establishing obligations in this respect,
  • analysis of possible social conflicts related to the planned project, including the analysis of impacts on the local community.

 

Experienced consulting companies can significantly facilitate the EIA procedure by fulfilling legal obligations, ensuring the dialogue with the administrative authorities, and balancing the investor's interest with environmental protection.

 

Key points of the permitting process

The procedure aimed at issuing the environmental decision requires meeting the deadlines and completing the regulations specified in the Assessment Act[6]. The operation of this process can be improved or, on the contrary - complicated.

 

The body conducting the procedure will consider the specificity of the project - its scale and type, and to what extent it may affect individual components of the environment. Incomplete or late provision of the documentation, or incomplete wildlife inventory, insufficient characteristics of the project, and many other elements may cause lengthening the process.

 

A crucial element of the permitting process is the legitimate preparation of the application for issuing an environmental decision with complete attachments, as well as the preparation of a report on the environmental impact of projects in accordance with the Act. This may have a significant impact on the possibilities or method of implementing the planned investment and its commencement.

 

It may seem that starting the environmental procedure as soon as possible - when the parameters of the project and approximate design solutions are roughly defined, it will allow us to gain time and clarify the project during the ongoing procedure. On the contrary - essential is to present the authority a mature concept, with well-thought-out technical and technological solutions that will not change after obtaining the environmental decision.

 

The authority issues an environmental decision based on the specific parameters of the project. If, as a result of an earlier underestimation, wrongly adopted assumptions or the investor's rush, modifications, in relation to the environmental decision are made in the application for a building permit, then the authority may state - despite the previously issued environmental decision - that a new environmental impact report is required.

 

It is worth emphasizing the human factor in the EIA procedure. Ultimately behind the "leading authority" responsible for the decision, are people who, make a subjective analysis of a given case, within the limits of the regulations. It is worth getting involved at this stage by being at the disposal of the authorities and being transparent. Cooperation with the authorities and maintaining permanent, good communication works to the benefit of the project.

 

Author: Anna Wojnarowska

 


References:
[1] Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/8
[2] specified in the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of September 10, 2019 on projects that may significantly affect the environment;
[3] Act of 3 October 2008 on the use of information on the history and its protection, the participation of the environment in environmental protection and the assessment of knowledge about the environment;
[4] Act of 3 October 2008 on the use of information on the history and its protection, the participation of the environment in environmental protection and the assessment of knowledge about the environment;
[5] specified in the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of September 10, 2019 on projects that may significantly affect the environment;
[6] Act of 3 October 2008 on the use of information on the history and its protection, the participation of the environment in environmental protection and the assessment of knowledge about the environment;

 

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