Story 2: Opening offshore wind farms for transit in the Netherlands
The Dutch government is planning to increase the number of offshore wind farms in the next decade. In order to reduce their impact on marine traffic, options are being considered for opening some of the future wind farms for transit and co-use.
In preparation for this, the Dutch Government (Rijkswaterstaat) carried out a risk assessment. A package of mitigating measures was prepared in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including wind farm owners (RWS - Bijl01, Dec. 2015). The wind farm owners also carried out their own risk analyses and introduced them into the process. The following regulations were proposed for vessels transiting offshore wind farms:
- For ships up to 24 meters length;
- At daytime;
- With functioning and active VHF and AIS installation;
- Seabed disturbing activities are forbidden;
- Third party diving activities are forbidden;
- Within the wind farms, a safety zone of 50 meters is established around the turbines. The 500 meters safety zones around offshore transformer stations will remain in place.
In 2016/2017, the Dutch government decided to pilot the new regulations. Three offshore wind farms, OWEZ, Amalia and Luchterduinen, were to be opened for transit for vessels up to 24 meter in length.
However, the wind farm operators and other stakeholders could not reach consensus on the costs and benefits of the proposed regulation. Although extensive studies were carried out, the parties were not unanimous in how to interpret the risk assessment. Wind farm operators had the following concerns:
- Who is to cover the costs of adapting the offshore installations to the new situation, and how does this relate to the contract between operator and the government;
- Concerns about damage to the wind farm infrastructure and increased operational expenses, which were not part of earlier business plans. An additional concern was that there was no proposal for compensation in case accidents happen;
- Loss of work time of operational & maintenance (O&M) teams and risks to OWF personnel due to responding to third party safety infringements;
- Damage to the image of the offshore wind energy sector and possibly the wind farm owner. This could be caused by accidents and any subsequent litigation which might occur after partial opening of the wind farms.
Due to these unresolved concerns, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy asked for an independent review (second opinion) of all relevant risk studies carried out. This was to assess the residual risk after implementing the suggested management measures. It was also to assess whether risks were properly mitigated, and whether risks might still be under- or overestimated. Once again, the focus of the risk assessment was on the three offshore wind farms to be opened for transit.
The second opinion was published in early 2018. It found no serious research gaps and saw the proposed rules and regulations as sufficient. The Dutch government thus proposed to open three out of four operational offshore wind farms to transit: ‘Offshore Windpark Egmond aan Zee’, ‘Prinses Amalia Windpark’ and ‘Luchterduinen’. The fourth wind farm, ‘Gemini’, is to remain a safety area, as a result of its distance to shore and the relatively high costs of installing monitoring and law enforcement systems. The official pilot will take 2 years, but will be automatically extended. The conditions for multi-use and transit of vessels might be adapted by then based on new insights. A longer-term solution is that new offshore wind farms will include a corridor which makes it possible for vessels up to 45 meters to transit them. These farms will be built in the period of 2019-2023.