Ensure that the regulatory response is proportional to the potential impact of a proposal

Marine renewable energy (MRE) – capturing energy from waves and the rise and fall or flow of the tide – is an emerging industry which relies on research, development and innovation to ensure its continued development. 


Although there have been some high profile deployments of wave and tidal generators, they have predominantly been single machines progressing through a range of pre-commercial technology readiness levels.  It is only recently that serious multi-device arrays have been installed or are planned for imminent deployment at demonstration scale where power is exported to the grid.  Whilst offshore wind is a more established industry, there are still innovative developments required in this sector, not least of which is the emerging need for floating foundations in locations where water is too deep or seabed substrate conditions are unsuitable for more conventional piled foundations.


Much of this innovation and development work is carried out at designated test sites, with staff dedicated to managing licencing conditions; however, all at-sea deployments, whether on established test sites or at project-specific locations, will be subject to regulation from the Marine Management Organisation, with allied input from Natural England and CEFAS.  It is vital that the regulatory response from all these agencies is consistent across all applications to deploy innovative MRE technology for testing and development purposes and fully considers scale and potential impact when making decisions as to what further information is required.


Innovation inherently involves risk, as it requires doing something new and untested – but that risk should always be quantifiable.  In reality, the small scale of prototype and development work is normally such that even the worst case scenario of outcome poses minimal environmental risk.  Innovative development activity is currently being deterred or prevented by an over-precautionary approach or being restricted to an extent that the data gathered will be an incomplete picture of the impact of variables and so diminish the value of crucial early stage trials. 


Proportionality of response is key to removing regulatory barriers to innovation.  With vast new areas being designated, particularly as SPAs the traditional approach of interpreting “likely significant effect” under the Habitats Regulations as a “low bar” needs to be reconsidered.  In other areas of risk assessment, likelihood x consequence calculations based on the existing knowledge base are standard.  This process would provide a suitable means for determining credible risk to the features concerned but permit small scale innovative projects to proceed with the minimum of impediment.


The current approach is to use vaguely related data in such a way that a conclusion of ‘no likely significant effect’ can rarely be reached forcing the applicant to undertake an appropriate assessment, often at great cost using the same unreliable or inappropriate data.  The precautionary principle has been used in a contradictory manner.  For example, where there is a documented high risk of species being disturbed by a single MRE/wind device, it is hard to understand why so much time is spent evaluating potential mortality risk from collision with the device.  


Taking such a laborious and risk-averse approach requires a raft of detailed work to be carried out, both by the applicant and by the regulator, adding significant time and cost to the project.  Such additional burdens on the management of the project often mean that it is no longer innovative at best and no longer technically or financially viable at worst.  Regulators often do not have the capacity to deal with the workload they have imposed on themselves, leading to a long and drawn out process which understandably frustrates commercial technology developers.


Whilst it is understandable that regulators and other agencies want to quantify the specific impact of a device, it is often impracticable to isolate specific data from other activity in the locality.  In such instances, analysing new activity in the context of analogous longstanding existing local activity may help to fast track the assessment of an innovative proposal.


Underpinning this cautionary position taken by regulators is often the lack of data available to inform decision making is a lack of data.  The deploy and monitor approach taken by regulators more recently (particularly in Scotland and Wales) is one way of allowing innovation to flourish, whilst gaining realistic information about the way in which a device operates and interacts with the marine environment and local habitats.  Such information can then be used to inform future decision making as technology and understanding progress.

Why the contribution is important

·      Currently over precautionary and disproportionate regulatory response to potential risk

·      Lack of appropriate data means that the precautionary principle is often over used and innovative activity is deterred as a result

·      Vast induced workload is very costly in both time and money, to both applicant and regulator

·      The limited capacity of regulators reduces response times, which frustrates commercial projects

·      Putting restrictions on innovative activity means you will not get a complete and full data set of cause and effect

·      Scalability – cannot be sure that testing single device gives appropriate data for array scale, so regulating a single prototype device as if it were a commercial array gains nothing

·      Need to establish proportionate response to proposed innovative activity, especially at small, prototype scale

·      Learn from experience – easing regulatory process with streamlined system

by FalmouthHarbourCommissioners on January 08, 2016 at 04:28PM

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