Floating wind turbine planned
Fears for wind farm’s impact on seabirds
A temporary floating turbine is to be installed off Mellieħa in a €15 million study on the impact the planned wind farm could have on birds.
The Government is expected to issue a call for tenders this week for the lease of the turbine, which will be used to study the impact on colonies of shearwater and other birds.
The birds’ flight path happens to run through the area chosen for the wind farm, the reef off Mellieħa known as Sikka il-Bajda.
In a reaction to this story, Opposition environment spokesman Leo Brincat called on the government for a detailed, official statement of what had become of the plans for a wind farm on Sikka l-Bajda.
He said no official statement had been made on the outcome of the Environment Impact Assessment on the project.
He asked whether the project, as proposed, violates EU policies because it threatened the status of a marine protection area and could have an impact on protected species.
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The exact site and details have still to be finalised with stakeholders and the planning authority but the idea behind having a floating turbine is so that it could be moved if the studies require it.
A spokesperson for the Resources Ministry said the Government had asked for EU funds to cover the estimated €15 million cost of project, which will include observation of bird behaviour, aided by modern tracking equipment, before, during and after the turbine’s installation.
The requirement emerges from an environmental impact assessment of the proposed farm, which flagged up concerns about the impact it could have on birds.
The main concern is for a breeding colony of the Yelkouan Shearwater – Malta hosts about 10 per cent of the world’s population – at Mellieha’s Rdum tal-Madonna.
This is only two kilometres away from the reef.
Other birds could be affected, including Cory’s Shearwaters that breed in Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo as well as other species whose migration route takes them to the area.
Studies so far have been inconclusive, which is why the EIA recommended that a test turbine be installed to be able to gauge the actual impact on the birds.
The experts conducting the assessment concluded there was not enough information on the behaviour of these birds to be able to predict how they would react to such an installation.
The presence of the Yelkouan Shearwater, in particular, could be a serious stumbling block. The bird colony is at the centre of Malta’s largest EU-sponsored conservation project and as a species is regulated under the Birds Directive. This has provisions on the protection of bird species from projects that could have a detrimental effect on the survival of such birds.
Nicholas Barbara, Conservation Manager for Birdlife Malta, which runs the Shearwater programme, said the NGO had submitted a position paper on the conclusions of the environmental impact assessment.
“We support the Government’s plans to invest in renewable energy but we have highlighted our concerns,” he said.
Among other things, the conservation group pointed out that the reaction of the birds to a single turbine may not be sufficient to predict the reaction to an installation involving some 19 turbines.
In fact, the main problem does not appear to stem from the rotating blades and the possibility of the birds getting caught in them, but rather the disturbance the turbines could cause.
In particular, the impact assessment highlighted the potential effect of loud fog horns used to alert passing vessels of the wind farm. “These could even disturb the Cory’s Shearwater colony in Ta’ Ċenċ,” Mr Barbara pointed out.
The problem is not unique to Malta. Wind farms have often divided the public and even environmental groups for their visual noise and ecological impact particularly on flying species like birds and bats.
However, with the leaps being made in the technology, wind energy is fast becoming one of the leading alternatives in the green energy industry.
A study published last month in Nature Climate Change said wind energy could provide 20 to 100 times current global power demand. The study concluded that there is a potential of 400 terawatts (the world currently consumes 18) of wind power at the Earth’s surface and 1,800 terawatts from the upper atmosphere – generated by tethered turbines floating hundreds of metres in the air where the winds are stronger and more consistent.
In Malta’s case, the farm is pivotal for Malta to reach its 2020 target to be able to generate 10 per cent of our energy needs from renewable sources.
Two years ago, a marine geologist had pointed out another potential stumbling block for the project when seismic studies on the reef revealed two sink holes or underwater caves. However, government experts have said the problem could be overcome by placing the turbines around these relatively small caves.