Wind Farm Stalled by Study for the Birds

Following a formal complaint by an environmentalist organization, the European Commission (EC) has stalled plans for the construction of Germany’s first offshore wind farm to investigate the proposed project’s possible infringement of European environmental laws, including a threat to a potentially endangered species of bird. Meanwhile the company building the wind farm expressed perplexity over the debate, insisting that the project presents no significant threat to area wildlife species — and in fact will help to protect animal species by generating power through clean alternative means.

Frankfurt, Germany – September 18, 2003 [] The environmentalist outfit, BirdLife International’s German partner, the non-governmental organization (NGO) NABU, complained to the EC about Germany’s planned Butendiek wind farm, which will consist of 80 turbines (in the 3 MW range) spread over 35 square kilometers of the central area of the Important Bird Area (IBA) the Eastern German Bight, which is a habitat for many seabirds such as red-throated and black-throated divers, terns and ducks. The IBA program, coordinated by BirdLife International, states that their objective is to identify and protect a network of critical sites for the world’s birds using standardized and internationally agreed criteria. The company building the wind farm, Offshore-Bürger-Windpark Butendiek GmbH & Co. KG, has expressed eagerness to maintain open dialog with NABU and other environmentalist groups. However, the company insists that results of their own thorough preliminary studies indicated the construction would not compromise the birds’ survival. “We knew from the beginning of our planning that our project area is located in an IBA,” said Wolfgang Paulsen, spokesperson for Offshore-Bürger-Windpark Butendiek GmbH & Co. KG. “But in the meantime our (environmental investigation) showed us, that a wind farm of our size would not harm birds or whales in a measurable amount.” The area is also viewed as a potential site for European Union (EU) protection under the Habitats Directive due to its importance for mother and calf groups of the endangered common porpoise, the gray and common seal and several fish species. “A positioning of the wind park 20 to 30 kilometers further west, out of the IBA, would not bring any effect to birds or whales, because there is no significant digression of number in comparison to distance to shore,” said Paulsen, who further cited that his company has already invested more than €1 million (US$1.12 million) to conduct their own environmental field studies over the past two years and has been discussing results of the investigation and acceptable methods for construction with environmental groups and authorities all along. The IBA is situated in Germany’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), areas in which all EU states have to designate protected “Natura 2000” sites, under the Birds and Habitats Directives. EEZs are all waters outside the 12-sea mile zone but still belonging to the national territory. In the North and Baltic Sea the EEZs of the member states border each other. Although the German Federal Ministry for Nature Conservation (BMU) has not yet designated any possible sites for protection, including the Eastern German Bight, it has agreed that the proposed wind farm site meets scientific criteria for a designation under both directives. In addition, in November 2002, NABU, following its list of IBAs and sites under the Habitats Directive on land, presented a shadow list for Natura 2000-sites in the German EEZ. The organization requested the BMU to designate these areas, covering about 15 percent of the German EEZ, as areas protected from any economic use. The responsible German authority, the “Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt and Hydrographie” (BSH), has allowed the wind park under the ruling of the national law, which still has not fully transposed the Habitats Directive. After the government and its responsible authority have approved the plans, the Butendiek company plans to begin construction of the wind farm early next year. There are also further plans for 22 additional wind farms in the German part of the EEZ in the North Sea and for six in the Baltic Sea, some of them with more than 120 turbines spread over up to 100 square kilometers. At least three of those planned would also be situated in the Eastern German Bight IBA. In addition to this, BirdLife International, which represents part of an alliance of conservation organizations working in more than 100 countries, believes that another major threat to wildlife may be presented by the extraction of sand and gravel that is planned on hundreds of square kilometers, including on more than 120 square kilometers in the IBA and close to it. “NABU and the BirdLife International partnership support environmentally-friendly energies in general, therefore it is a pity that the first offshore wind farm in Germany is planned in an area which is, due to its ecological values, absolutely unacceptable,” says NABU-director Gerd Billen. “Investors who stick to such a plan without taking into consideration any aspects of saving biological diversity not only do harm to nature but also jeopardize the acceptance of wind energy.” “We cannot understand Mr. Billen,” said Paulsen, who claims his company has taken all aspects of saving biological diversity into consideration. “The opposite is the truth. The wind cooperatives do a fine job of establishing renewable energy in a nature-acceptable manner.”
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