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Wind Energy Industry Agrees to Protect Endangered Whale

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A new offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea near Zingst, Germany. The Baltic 1 is Germany's first offshore wind farm, and began generating electricity in May, 2011.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with several other environmental groups, say they have reached an agreement with alternative energy companies planning to build wind farms along the Eastern seaboard, to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  NRDC attorney Kit Kennedy says this is the first time environmentalists have ironed out such a plan before any construction begins on the energy projects.

“We had great dialog about what kind of protections the whales need,” said Kennedy. “And the flexibility and the practical considerations of building an offshore wind project off the mid-Atlantic coast.”

Kennedy says only about 500 North American right whales are left. They migrate up the East Coast each winter, from southern breeding grounds to the North Atlantic. But plans to construct the first U.S. offshore wind farms along the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland could disrupt the right whales yearly trek. 

A study released this summer, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, documented an increase in ocean noise created by ships, damaging the whale’s ability to communicate with one another, navigate, and care for their young.

The NRDC’s Kennedy says mitigation methods during wind farm exploration and construction are simple. They include having ships travel slowly, and during daylight hours, watching out for the whales and reducing activities when they are in the area, and using less noisy machinery.

Deep Water Wind, Energy Management, Inc., and NRG Bluewater Wind agreed to implement noise mitigation over the next four years of development. But aside from the whales, those wind farm plans are still up in the air. Renewable energy advocates, and the Obama Administration, have been pushing for the East Coast wind energy projects as a way to provide the densely populated eastern seaboard with clean energy.

Deep Water Wind has plans to start construction on a wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island in 2014. Energy Management, Inc. wants to build a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. But the company has run up against community opposition and struggles with financing. NRG Bluewater Wind had plans to build a wind farm off the coast of Delaware, but the company is looking to sell its lease. NRG’s plan to build a wind farm off the Jersey shoreline has also stalled.

Adding to the uncertainty surrounding these wind farm projects is the expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit at end of this month. It’s unclear if Congress will renew it.

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