Offshore Wind Developers, Environmental Groups Reach First-of-Kind Agreement to Protect Endangered Right Whales

Agreement Also Helps Expedite Clean Energy in Mid-Atlantic

12-12-2012 // Miles Grant
Right Whale Mother and Calf

In a first of its kind collaboration, a coalition of leading environmental organizations and offshore wind developers has agreed to a series of voluntary measures that will protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, while helping to expedite responsible offshore wind development, in the Mid-Atlantic.

Building upon proposed federally mandated protections, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Environment America and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), working together with Deepwater Wind, Energy Management, Inc. (owner of Cape Wind in Massachusetts) and NRG Bluewater Wind, have drafted a set of protective measures that these developers will voluntarily implement over the next four years in areas designated by the administration as Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas, which stretch from New Jersey to Virginia (map available here: http://on.doi.gov/UWoNPF).

The measures outlined in the agreement provide further protections for the North Atlantic right whale, primarily by reducing or avoiding sound impacts from exploratory activities that developers use to determine where to build wind farms, such as the construction of temporary towers that measure weather conditions and underwater surveys that assess the geology just beneath the ocean floor. This is important because acoustic disturbances under the water can disrupt whale communication, safety of migration and feeding.

This agreement was born out of a shared objective to expedite environmentally responsible development and deployment of clean, renewable offshore wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic region – a critical step to reducing carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that threaten the ocean, wildlife and the climate. It was sent today to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore renewable energy development.

“We share with these leading developers a common objective to get offshore wind up and running as quickly as possible as a key tool in the fight against climate change,” said Tricia K. Jedele, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island. “To be clear, removing obstacles to offshore wind doesn’t mean cutting corners. Indeed, these companies have worked pro-actively with scientists and members of the environmental community to develop these new right whale protections and build them into their business plans. It’s a win-win agreement that both enhances protection for critically endangered right whales and advances offshore wind’s progress in the Atlantic.

Climate change is the single biggest threat to wildlife today and we urgently need to transition to clean energy sources like offshore wind,” said Justin Allegro, renewable energy and wildlife program manager at the National Wildlife Federation. “This collaborative agreement between key ocean stakeholders helps ensure these Atlantic offshore wind industry leaders can develop while protecting critically endangered right whales.”

“This first-of-a-kind agreement will help industry leaders more quickly capture the enormous potential of wind blowing off the Mid-Atlantic coast, while protecting a critically endangered species at the same time,” said NRDC Clean Energy Counsel Kit Kennedy. “These companies have shown great leadership. Climate change is the single biggest environmental threat to all life on Earth—on land and in the water—and the only way we can rise above it is by switching to clean energy sources. With proactive action like this, responsible American wind energy can start delivering the sustainable energy and jobs our country needs right now, while safeguarding marine life.”

“Deepwater Wind is proud to sign this historic agreement to help protect the North Atlantic right whale,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, which led the industry in developing the agreement, tasking its construction and environmental permitting staffs to share information with leading national experts on the North Atlantic right whale and leading the dialogue that gave rise to the agreement. “Offshore wind energy is a critical component to our nation's long-term energy security. We have an enormous energy resource right off of our coast and developing it will help preserve our environment and protect species like the North Atlantic right whale. But this energy resource must be developed responsibly, and we are committed to being a national leader in responsible development. This agreement – and Deepwater Wind's role in negotiating it – is proof of that commitment.”

“We are pleased be working with these leading environmental organizations who have been forceful advocates for launching America’s offshore wind industry on this measure to help safeguard North Atlantic Right Whales,” said Mark Rodgers, Communications Director at Energy Management.

Details of the Agreement

The full details of the agreement can be found here.

The agreement reduces the threat to right whales by limiting weather tower construction and certain other activities during the peak migration season, when whales travel through the mid-Atlantic region between southern calving and northern feeding grounds. During other times of the year, when the whales frequent the area less, the activities may take place with additional protective measures.

These additional protective measures include enhanced real-time human monitoring for whale activity in the site area and restriction of activities to daylight hours when whales can be spotted, the use of noise-reducing tools and technologies, and a lower speed limit for vessels in the area during migration times to avoid ship strikes.

“I was pleased at the responsiveness of the wind farm developers to right whale issues. Many of the wind farm areas occur in the migratory corridor for this endangered species, and this agreement should help minimize the effects of development on the continued recovery of right whales,” said Dr. Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium, one of the leading authorities on the North Atlantic right whale, science advisor to the parties, participant in the negotiations and a signatory to the letter.

The agreement also has the support of such other leading organizations as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

About North Atlantic Right Whales

There is broad scientific consensus that the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most critically endangered species on the planet, with a world population estimated between 350 and 400 individual animals. Given the extremely endangered status of the North Atlantic right whale, additional precautionary measures are important to enhance the current protections for this species.

About Offshore Wind Development

In Europe, offshore wind projects have been providing an increasingly large portion of power for over a decade. In the United States, not a single project like this has yet been built, but our country has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world, particularly along the Atlantic coast. Harnessing just a fraction of the Atlantic coasts’ offshore wind resources could generate enough pollution-free electricity to power to about 14 million U.S. homes, while creating over $200 billion in new economic activity along the coast.

Read our blog post to learn more about the agreement and what it means for wildlife.

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