Dt School of Arts Hl Administration & Technical Support
The offshore wind farm (OWF) industry is of growing importance, particularly in Europe. However, the local socio-economic impacts of OWF projects have received little attention compared with biophysical impacts. Yet, they have the potential to be significant for the regeneration of declining coastal communities. Drawing on findings from academic and industry literature, from a review of ESs (Environmental Statements) for OWFs and from particular case studies, the paper found differential coverage of social and economic impacts, and differences between predicted and actual impacts, by stage in project life. For example, the ES predictions substantially overestimated local offshore construction stage economic impacts, but underestimated other elements of the OWF lifecycle, including onshore construction, and especially the 20-25 years of the operation and management stage. The Aberdeen (Scotland) case study showed the importance of the engagement strategy of the developer. Drawing on the major Hornsea projects, off the coast of Yorkshire (England), the research also highlighted the positive and cumulative impacts of scale and hub status, where a programme of large OWFs can have important local impacts. The research identified some factors leading to the identified outcomes, including the changing size and location of OWF projects, the relevant legislative and regulatory context behind the decision-making processes for OWF projects, and the responses and relationships of stakeholders involved in the process. The key role of monitoring impacts is an underpinning issue and a requirement for the more effective assessment of impacts.
Aims: This study is one element of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) Environmental Research and Monitoring Programme supported by Vattenfall. The focus of this element of the whole programme is on the socio-economic impacts of Offshore Wind Farm (OWF) projects on the human environment. The EOWDC study provides the most detailed element of the socio-economics impacts research programme. Through detailed monitoring of the EOWDC over its lifecycle to date, the research seeks to provide a more robust evidence base of actual socio-economic impacts - particularly at the local and regional level - and so help to reduce uncertainties in future assessment/practices. The research compares these, as far as is possible, with the predicted impacts in the Environmental Statement (ES) for the project. The EOWDC is a relatively small OWF with 11 turbines/c 93.2MW, and with total expenditure (Totex) of about £280m. It is located 2.4km offshore. It is also an innovative project in terms of technology. It has offshore and onshore elements; the latter includes a sub-station at Blackdog, and a 7.5 km cable connection to SSE’s Dyce sub-station. Construction was completed in the Summer of 2018, and the first power flowed into the grid in September of that year.
Approach: the research approach included regular meetings/telecoms with Vattenfall project staff; workshops with representatives of local authorities/agencies and with the local Belhelvie Community Council to explore evolving project impacts and responses; and various surveys through the lifecycle of the project to identify actual socio-economic impacts. The ES (DTZ, 2011) uses Inner (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire), Wider (Scotland), and UK study areas. The focus here is on the Inner and Wider spatial areas. There was good data for the research from Vattenfall contracts spending; onshore tier 1 contractor contracts data, and sub-station workforce survey; community responses to proposed Community Benefits Fund; various community surveys; and press coverage of the project over its lifecycle. However, data was much thinner for the offshore construction stage activities of the two main tier 1 contractors.
Structure of the Report: the report has five parts. Part A provides an Introduction and Overview of the study. Part B analyses the findings gained on the actual economic impacts over the lifecycle to date of the EOWDC. It also seeks to compare the actual impacts with those forecast in the ES. The approach is largely quantitative, focusing on employment and wider economic effects. Part C concentrates on the social impacts, including analyses of various perception studies undertaken by the project and by Vattenfall (re Community Benefits Fund). The data on the social impacts is generally more qualitative in nature. A further section, Part D, very briefly reviews socio-economic impacts on the two floating OWF developments off the Aberdeenshire coast -- Hywind and Kincardine. A final section, Part E , draws out some conclusions on the actual socio-economic impacts and compares these, as far as is possible, with the predicted impacts in the ES for the project. It also summarises cumulative effects of the EOWDC with the adjacent floating OWF projects.
Summary of Economic Impacts Findings: the EOWDC project performed well against economic impact predictions for the onshore construction and for the early O&M stages of the project life cycle -- stages that tend to be underplayed in EIAs and in the ES documentation, but which are especially important for local economic benefits. The O&M stage is particularly significant in terms of the high local percentage of the total economic impacts, over a 20-25 year life. In contrast, for this project, the local and Scotland wide economic benefits from offshore construction appear to be very limited, and much less than predicted. There are some caveats, relating to the relatively small size of the EOWDC project, and data gaps from two key tier 1 contractors, but even so, the actual impacts are estimated as being low and well below those predicted in the original ES documents. The nearby Hywind floating wind farm project appears to have even larger construction stage leakages, and indeed, there may be even less local economic benefit from the O&M stage than anticipated in the low impact scenario for that project. This leakage of the offshore construction stage benefits is a major concern to local, regional and national authorities, as noted by the Scottish Energy Minister at an offshore wind summit in Edinburgh in early 2020 – ‘Scotland is the ideal location for offshore wind, but recent projects have not delivered the significant economic opportunities we want to see for Scottish businesses’. Summary of Social Impacts Findings: there was very little coverage of social impacts in the ES documentation, and there was no evidence of any significant actual impacts on social infrastructure, such as housing and local services. However, from the various surveys, there were some community concerns, although these lessened over the life cycle. Community views of the project during the consenting and pre-construction stage comprised elements of ‘resistance’ due to uncertainty over the number, size and location of the turbines. Parts of the community felt ‘blighted’ due to decades of historic legacy of unwanted development and made vocal objection to the development. Yet others expressed that they did not mind the proposed development and sought to ‘get on board’ with the project. These differing views (possibly somewhat exaggerated by the media) did result in some loss of social cohesion within the communities during the pre-construction and construction stage, but this was less of an issue into the early O&M stage. Concerning visual impacts during construction of the onshore and offshore elements, most respondents (over 50% in each case) felt that the impacts were as expected. These dropped slightly in a later survey of community views during the O&M stage, when ‘as experienced’ or ‘not experienced’ was the dominant response. Many responses used the word ‘surprise’ in relation to the wind turbines – how big they are and how close to the shore. The biggest ‘feeling’ in relation to the windfarm was that it was ‘good to see clean energy being generated’ (80%). However, a number of qualitative comments indicate some conflicted viewpoints e.g. ‘not great for the seascape but the renewable energy is necessary’. Of importance for management of both social and economic impacts is the engagement strategy of the developer.There is evidence of much good practice in the Vattenfall approach, well managed by the project’s Local Community Liaison Officer, throughout the life cycle from pre-construction through to early O&M. The introduction of the EOWDC Community Benefits Fund (CBF), known as the Unlock our Future Fund, is another very important feature of long-term community engagement.