Offshore wind projects: Assessing the environmental impact: Offshore wind power gains ground but faces environmental challenges

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White & Case LLPTo maximize its potential, industry players will have to navigate an often-complex web of national, state and local environmental regulation

The growing offshore wind industry is expected to continue to create local jobs, boost regional economies and mitigate the effects of climate change globally. However, offshore wind also raises environmental challenges that are often overlooked.

In recent years, the pipeline for new offshore wind farms on the East Coast of the US has grown considerably. Japan's coastal regions are also attracting more interest in offshore wind projects due to strong governmental support And in Europe, particularly in Germany and the UK, the offshore wind industry is even more advanced. Although clean energy demand in these jurisdictions is expected to spur construction of significant numbers of offshore towers, related environmental risks could delay or ultimately sink an offshore wind project if not managed properly and pursuant to local environmental laws.

While environmental regulators in the regions discussed in this report generally mandate assessments of how offshore wind projects will affect the environment, and how those impacts could be mitigated, offshore projects face varied obstacles based on each jurisdiction's environmental laws. For example, while US offshore projects have met substantial opposition related to visual impacts, this consideration tends to be somewhat insignificant in the German wind farm permitting process. Further, different countries often require unique mechanisms and solutions to protect different aspects of the local environment that may be impacted by offshore wind farms (for example, endangered North Atlantic right whales off the coast of the Northeastern United States, or northern Eurasian bittern feeding in Japanese waters).

Wind project developers, financiers, investors, acquirers, contractors and materials suppliers should understand the ways that environmental regulators in different regions require offshore wind projects to manage environmental risks and impacts. These regulatory requirements may present companies in the offshore wind space with unique local compliance obligations, along with potential opportunities to take advantage of similarities among regional requirements.  Going forward, as national, state, provincial and territorial governments rev up green-power mandates to fight climate change, wind sector participants should recognize the legal risks and opportunities surrounding these issues as they develop, support, finance, acquire, sell and operate offshore wind assets.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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