Wind industry council to study nature, social impacts of offshore turbines in the Philippines

A wind energy trade association aims to educate its members on offshore turbines’ biodiversity impacts in the Philippines, along with strategies to maintain the sector’s social license amidst the country’s clean energy expansion.

Verde Island corals
Corals off Verde Island in central Philippines. Offshore wind development has been proposed in the biodiversity-rich region. Image: The Reef-World Foundation/ Flickr

A major wind energy trade association is looking to help its members better understand how offshore turbine developments in the Philippines could impact biodiversity and existing coastal stakeholders, as the country looks to scale up on clean energy.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), which represents firms controlling 70 per cent of wind energy capacity worldwide, is working with nonprofit Ocean Energy Pathway to develop its Philippines studies.

Environmental civil society groups will be consulted, the council said. It did not specify when the studies will be released.

This latest effort comes on the back of GWEC reports published last month, on how offshore wind can contribute US$63.5 billion and 770,000 jobs to South Korea’s coastal cities, and improve co-existence with South Korean fisheries through better government guidance.

An expansion of wind energy, which produces almost no carbon emissions, is seen as essential for the world to reach its climate goals. But in recent years, new projects have met local opposition in some Asian growth markets – including South Korea and the Philippines – where conservationists and fishermen fear disruptions to livelihoods and wildlife.

In May 2024, the Philippines government said it wants to quadruple the share of wind energy in its power mix by 2030, to almost 12 per cent, while more than doubling its solar portion to 5.6 per cent.

Marine impact studies

GWEC’s Philippines studies will seek to understand how offshore wind could affect wildlife such as corals and marine mammals. It will also study the industry’s effect on the country’s marine infrastructure, shipping lanes, coastal landscape and fishing communities.

Offshore wind farms usually do not produce chemical effluents nor disturb seabeds during normal operations, but its construction – involving drilling and laying of heavy foundations for large turbines – can affect wildlife. Large projects will also take up considerable sea space.

Mark Hutchinson, Southeast Asia director at GWEC, told Eco-Business it is a “normal evolution” that the wind industry now has to prove it can deliver economic, social and nature benefits, beyond providing clean electricity.

“When the industry was small, it did not have a large impact. Now it is a huge industry, and given the plans that many governments worldwide have for wind to meet their decarbonisation goals, we now have to start thinking about sharing space with those in marine transport, defence, ecotourism, fisheries and others,” he said.

Wind energy developers installed a record 117 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity last year, 50 per cent more than in 2022. China and Europe dominated the additions, though emerging Asia is also expected to scale up in the coming years.

“Offshore wind is new to Southeast Asia, and as such a lot of the data surrounding uses of the ocean have not been fully mapped out to identify where offshore wind would be feasible. As much as possible, GWEC works with the various ministries to build an understanding of the trade-offs between different uses,” Hutchinson said.

“Many of the issues faced in South Korea and Japan will be faced by fisheries in Southeast Asia. The best practice is always [for wind developers] to engage with them early,” he added. South Korean fisheries have been vocal opponents of local offshore wind development. The country in response, drafted a bill to give the fishing industry more say in the zoning of coastal waters, which has not been passed yet.

In the Philippines, there are concerns proposed offshore wind projects could affect coral reefs in the Verde Island Passage, a busy sea lane also teeming with wildlife. Some onshore projects have also faced opposition for encroaching on forest environments.

The nation currently does not veto developers who want to site turbines in biologically sensitive sites. But they will have to post financial bonds for potential environmental damage, and conduct more detailed impact studies before getting the go-ahead.

Hutchinson said GWEC encourages its members to avoid placing projects in sensitive areas.

“As best practice, most developers do this already – they don’t want protestors at their next annual general meeting for destroying sensitive habitats. From a practical point of view, poorly sited projects often face delays for years to get all the permits, if ever,” he said.

Mixed growth outlook

Many Asia Pacific nations are betting big on wind energy. Lu Yi-Hua, head of APAC at UK-based Corio Generation, estimates that rising markets in the region have pledged at least 225GW of new capacity up to 2050.

However, project developers are also hampered by geopolitics and financing woes, Lu said, with supply chain fragmentation being a key headache for Asian markets.

“Each country has its own target, which is okay. But each country has its own industrial strategic policy as well,” Lu said, pointing to local content rules in markets such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan restricting a greater sharing of wind turbine components.

“We’re so close to China, so it feels natural that China and its supply chain, without a bottleneck, can contribute to APAC offshore wind growth. But there is a really interesting political overlay there as well,” he added.

Lee Keng Lin, chief executive of Singapore-based Cyan Renewables, said there are also not enough installation vessels worldwide that can be used to erect increasingly large turbines.

Financiers are demanding higher lending rates for projects in emerging markets, further jacking up costs.

“In Vietnam or the Philippines, with the exact same equipment and similar seabed conditions, you can end up with a 20 per cent more expensive turbine project,” Hutchinson said. 

GWEC is also working with industry members to develop a blueprint for a competitive project procurement process in Vietnam – a project Vietnam’s government has floated for years, but has not been realised yet.

William Jackson, director at consultancy Green Giraffe Advisory, said things are looking up with higher year-on-year investment in offshore wind globally. The high interest rates in recent years have affected all forms of energy infrastructure, not just wind, he said.

But Asian regulators need to help build a market where more corporate players can contract for clean electricity, so that developers can secure better offtake terms, Jackson added.

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