Among the three offshore wind farms currently under construction by the PGE Baltica Group is Baltica 1. The project, which has capacity of around 0.9 GW and is expected to be operational after 2030, is currently undergoing environmental studies. It is being carried out by a consortium of Polish contractors – Gdynia Maritime University and MEWO S.A.

Approximately 80 kilometres from the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea, in the Central Shoal area, studies are being carried out to obtain an environmental decision for the Baltica 1 project.

– The research is intended to answer questions about potential risks and possible constraints that need to be taken into account during the design and subsequent construction of the offshore wind farm. More than 300 people are working on an inventory of the state of the marine environment in the area of the future offshore wind farm, which will form the basis for assessing its impact on various elements of the environment. On the other hand, the results of the research will determine how natural conditions, such as wave and sea currents, will affect the farm. When carrying out environmental studies and conducting impact assessments, we pay attention to ensure that, above all, no negative environmental impact is generated. Thanks to such studies and the environmental impact assessment carried out on their basis, we are able to reconcile operation of the offshore wind farm with preservation of natural wealth and interests of other users of the sea – said Tomasz Eksmond, PGE Baltica’s project administration and permitting expert.

A dozen vessels, specialised equipment and non-stop service

The environmental surveys include geophysical and geological surveys to determine the depth, seabed and the deep geological structure in the study area. This is possible through the use of equipment based on acoustic, seismic and magnetic methods. Bathymetric, sonar, magnetometer, seismoacoustic and seismic surveys will be carried out, as well as soil sampling to a depth of 6 metres in the farm area and the offshore connection. Wave, current, temperature and salinity sensors are installed during the survey, which usually lasts a minimum of one year. A buoy is also placed in the sea to measure meteorological parameters such as temperature, humidity, wind and atmospheric pressure. In turn, detectors for the sound of porpoises ‘clicking’, known as F-pods, and acoustic background recorders that allow subsequent analysis of underwater noise are used to collect data on living organisms. Once installed, such detectors need to be serviced approximately every 6-8 weeks. In addition, dedicated bird survey cruises are carried out throughout the year to determine species composition and number, as well as avifauna’s use of the body of water intended for the location of the farm and its vicinity. The studies also include year-round surveys of fish, bats, as well as plants (phytobenthos) and animals (zoobenthos) inhabiting the seabed. Year-round environmental surveys also cover the sea and land area for the planned connection infrastructure.

Seventeen different types of vessels and an aircraft specifically dedicated to marine mammal surveys are scheduled to participate in the entire project, including all activities and surveys. The larger vessels install survey equipment, operate machinery used for sampling and conducting geophysical surveys. Small vessels are used, for example, to survey bat populations or to service underwater equipment.

– The units that we will be installing in the area of the future wind farm are completely autonomous units with their own power supply, their own memory and, of course, protected from high water pressure conditions. Each of these devices has its own unique settings so that they record those parameters that are of most interest to us in the environmental impact assessment process. During each servicing, the devices are fished out, the data is downloaded or the memory cards are replaced and then processed with the appropriate software in the laboratories. The only device that can be viewed online is the measuring buoy, where data from the meteorological sensors can be viewed hourly. This is particularly important in terms of the operational capabilities in the area – for example, to check whether ships can sail safely and carry out surveys – said Lucjan Gajewski, Vice President of the Management Board for Development at MEWO S.A.

After each voyage, data are compiled over a period of several weeks and submitted in partial reports, so that at the stage of annual monitoring it is already possible to draw conclusions on the state of the environment in the area of the future offshore wind farm.

It is worth noting that the measurements are “good weather surveys” and it is the weather conditions that have the greatest impact on the operability of the project. It is very often the case that bad weather conditions, including wind, also restrict the life of the organisms being surveyed. Therefore, in order to inventory their presence in the area of the future farm and the connection infrastructure, surveys must be carried out during good weather conditions.

Utilising the experience of Polish operators

It is very important for PGE Baltica to involve Polish research institutions and companies in the development of offshore wind farm projects. This allows the potential of domestic suppliers and service contractors in the supply chain. The leader of the consortium that carries out the research is the Maritime University of Gdynia, which has many years of experience in carrying out environmental research related to infrastructure investments in marine areas, including for offshore wind energy. Consortium member MEWO SA, which is a company with Polish capital, also engages subcontractors, most of which are also Polish companies and institutions. It can be said that Polish capital accounts for 90% of the entities involved in the environmental research project.

During the signing of the agreement, Adam Weintrit PhD, DSc, FRIN, FNI, Master Mariner, Rector of the Maritime University in Gdynia, emphasised that the dynamic development of wind energy could prove to be a driving force not only for the university, but also for many areas of the national economy. Moreover, the research in which UMG is involved is one of the largest in the university’s history, allowing it to draw on the extensive expertise of the university’s staff. In addition, the requirements of the contract have accelerated the necessary investment in laboratory facilities and specialised measurement equipment for the Marine Institute, the unit of the University carrying out research directly for the Baltica 1 project.

– Data and samples collected from the area of the future wind farm will eventually be transferred to accredited laboratories operating at the UMG Marine Institute, performing a full spectrum of geo- and hydrochemical tests, advanced geotechnical tests or analyses of biological composition. On the basis of the results obtained, the condition of selected elements of the natural environment will be determined. This information will be further used by our experts to prepare model analyses and appropriate maps depicting the spatial structure of the studied elements. The information obtained will be used by the Institute’s team to prepare an environmental report – said Maciej Matczak, Ph.D., professor of the UMG, director of the UMG Marine Institute.

Baltica 1 is one of three projects currently being implemented by PGE in the Baltic Sea. Later this decade, the Baltica 2 and Baltica 3 wind projects, which make up the Baltica Offshore Wind Farm with a total installed capacity of about 2.5 GW, will be launched. The Baltica 2 and Baltica 3 projects are being developed by PGE Group and Ørsted.

Baltica 1 with an installed capacity of approximately 0.9 GW is being developed by the PGE Group and will be operational after 2030. The project already has a location permit and a connection agreement. By implementing further offshore wind farm projects, the PGE Group intends to fulfil the strategic goal of achieving at least 6.5 GW of offshore capacity in the Baltic Sea by 2040.