Analysis: Wind farms cannot be built near Hiiumaa

Diagram of the Hiiu maritime area.
Diagram of the Hiiu maritime area. Source: AB Artes Terrae

According to an analysis of the Hiiu maritime area commissioned by the Ministry of Finance, wind farms cannot be built off the coast of Hiiumaa, due to their potential impact on local birds. However, according to the report, it would be possible to build a wind farm between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, with the company "Roheline Elekter" having already applied for a construction permit to do so.

There have been at least eight applications for planning permission to build wind farms off the coast of Hiiumaa, mainly in locations to the north and west of the island. Three of these applications were submitted by Nelja Energia AS, which is now majority-owned by Eesti Energia subsidiary Enefit Green, four by Sunly Wind OÜ, and one by Roheline Elekter AS, owned by Andres and Oleg Sõnajalg.

According to an analysis of the Hiiu maritime area commissioned by the Ministry of Finance and conducted by AB Ares Terrae, seven of the proposed offshore wind farms should not be built. However, the report also states, that there is a 137 square kilometer area of land in the region, where a wind farm could be built subject to certain conditions. A large part of the area in question has been the subject of a construction permit application from Roheline Elekter.

AB Ares Terrae's analysis takes into account a wide range of constraints and parameters, however, the study mainly argues that wind farms should not be built close to Hiiumaa due to the potential harm they may cause to local birds. Kristjan Priimäe, who was a member of the research team, said that the protection of birds was the main factor behind the study's findings.

In 2022, the Estonian Ornithological Society published a study entitled "The Upgrading of Marine Areas of International Importance for Birds," in which almost the entire coast of Hiiumaa was identified as potentially being designated as a protected area, including those locations earmarked for the construction of wind farms.

Although the precise boundaries of the potential protected area are yet to be finalized, Priimäe said, that if and when they are confirmed, wind farms could not be built there.

"So which areas are definitely ruled out, we don't yet know, however, it's heading in that direction," Priimäe said.

He added, that there are also other areas outside the protected area, where the construction of wind farms is not entirely prohibited, but would still be subject to additional restrictions, making it more difficult to acquire the necessary permits.

According to Priimäe, there are also two major concerns with the Sõnajalg's plans to construct a wind farm at the site between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. First, studies have not yet been carried out to determine the geology of the seabed, meaning it remains unknown whether the wind turbines could be securely anchored. The second concern relates to the potential impact of the wind farm on bats.

"(Bats) could be killed or injured if they fly through the wind farm. They fly at sea, which is why they could get injured. In the Hiiu-Saare wind farm area, the flight (patterns) of bats have not been studied at all," Priimäe said.

In Priimäe's view, it is now time to move forward with the plans for the area. "First of all, a geological study should be carried out, (as well as) a study of the bats and an analysis of the sea area on the Saaremaa side," he said.

"If those studies are supportive (of the plans), then go ahead with the national special planning. Up to the point where an offshore wind farm could be built there, which would contribute to the achievement of the (country's) green objectives," Priimäe said.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the new study will serve as a basis for decision making on a national level. Lembe Reiman, an advisor in the Ministry of Finance's spatial planning department, said, that it would not lead to anything being built immediately, though equally, nothing would definitely be cancelled as a result of the report.

Reiman said, that the analysis clearly showed there are more suitable sites for the construction of wind farms in the vicinity of Hiiumaa, than those for which plans currently exist.

An alternative site, which the report suggests may be better suited for the construction of wind farms is far from Hiiumaa. However, the location on the edge of the Estonian economic area and the other side of the shipping lanes is also problematic as wind turbines, could not be anchored to the seabed there at all. The report therefore admits, that without the technology to construct floating wind farms, this would not be possible.

Offshore wind farms in deep waters further away from the coast of Hiiumaa would also be significantly more expensive and add further complexity to electricity transmission processes. The study notes that offshore hydrogen production could improve the situation, though again concedes, that the required technology is not yet available.

In a press release, Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) said, that the state needs to consider all available possibilities in order to meet its renewable energy targets. Solman added, that developers are interested in the Hiiu maritime area.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the country's need for the development of renewable energy along with the continued interest of developers, necessitated a spatial analysis.

The analysis will be used to inform the government plans related the development of wind energy production facilities in the Hiiu maritime area.

The size and locations of sites earmarked for wind energy production facilities, as well as the need for any further studies are likely to be clarified during the planning process.

The precise locations of the proposed Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) are also in the process of being clarified, This may, in turn, lead to changes in the areas considered suitable for the construction of wind farms.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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