THE GEMINI TEAM

Luuk Folkerts Permits &

 Environmental Monitoring

The Gemini Wind Farm is being built out at sea, surrounded by maritime flora and fauna. How do you manage that as carefully as possible? Luuk Folkerts manages the project in terms of permits and environmental monitoring. The ambition: to minimise the impact, now and later.

It’s interesting to see that many people who are involved in Gemini all have their own history with the project. And Luuk Folkerts is no exception. His story goes back to 2005: “At the time, the German wind energy developer Bard was exploring possible sites in the North Sea to build windmills. I was working for the consultancy Ecofys and we were asked to provide advice.  I recommended that they went for these locations, in the race for permits and government subsidies that was then taking place. Although these sites are slightly further from the coast, it’s always very windy there.  Furthermore, Eemshaven is a great place for connecting to the grid.” After that, Folkerts was not involved in the project for six years: “Although I obviously continued to follow the project. Having selected the site and created the park design, I always felt it was somehow ‘my’ wind park.” Folkerts had been interested in sustainable energy for some time: “I’m really a physicist with a PhD in fundamental scientific research. But at a given moment, I consciously switched to a more socially relevant career. I feel sustainability is very important.”

‘In the operational phase, peace will return here.’

Further research

First at Ecofys and then self-employed from 2010, Folkerts worked for big offshore wind parks like Prinses Amalia and Sheringham Shoal. “Environmental monitoring and the permits obviously played an important role here too. I could use that knowledge and experience when I started work on Gemini.” Connecting, that’s one of the most important roles which he plays on a daily basis: “On the one hand, I deal with scientists, for the research that we commission. That’s what I manage. I also have to ensure that everything ends up with the right authorities. The final goal is that the project is completed within the permits and within budget.”

Throughout the permit process, the Environmental Impact Assessment plays an important role, Luuk explains. However, it’s impossible to determine all the possible effects in advance. “You end up with what we call ‘knowledge gaps’. The government then says: you need to explore certain things in more detail to fill these knowledge gaps. In our case, this mainly concerns the fauna: birds, fish, porpoises and seals. How does the construction and the subsequent operational phase affect them?” Lots of instruments are used to measure this: “While we were pile driving, for example, we took underwater measurements to check how porpoises reacted to it. This was done by counting from the air. We also use passive acoustic measurements, with measuring equipment under water which can pick up the clicks made by porpoises.  We measure the birds with counts from a ship and with a special bird radar.”

 

 

‘We show that we understand it, how we want to prevent damage and that we monitor carefully.”’

View separately

It’s not just about measuring, Folkerts makes clear. “We know, for example, that porpoises can suffer damage to their hearing from pile driving activities if they get too close. That’s why we use a FaunaGuard: an underwater loudspeaker that produces irritating but harmless ‘go away noises’ at a high frequency. We do the same for fish, but then with low frequency sounds.” And does this work? “We also study the effectiveness of these methods separately. At the Marsdiep near Texel, we test the FaunaGuard and monitor the reactions of porpoises swimming past.”

Animal welfare plays a crucial role in all this: “Our permit stipulated that we were required to study ‘mortality’ among fish, by exposing fish in cages to the sound of pile driving.  We then had to count how many died. Well, logistically, it’s a nightmare trying to organise that in the middle of the North Sea. Furthermore, our principle was: we’d rather chase the fish away before we started pile driving than kill them. So we put in a request to use the FaunaGuard, which we were allowed to do.”

 

More knowledge

According to Folkerts, everything has been done in close consultation with the government. “We show that we understand it, how we want to prevent damage and that we monitor carefully. It’s also special that our project contributes to expanding our knowledge of nature and the environment. For example, we are taking part in a long-term research project that follows the distribution of seals. Will they return to the wind park after the construction is completed, for example? They just might, partly because the area will then be closed to fishing vessels. Together with the soil life and the growth on the foundations of the turbines, this will produce an interesting ecosystem. In existing wind parks, we see an increase in biodiversity and fish stocks.” Looking at Gemini, Luuk concludes that the greatest impact on the environment is now past: the pile driving. “Obviously we are still making noise, but peace will return in the operational phase. Incidentally, after commissioning we will continue to monitor the environment to check how the fauna is developing.”