The heads of state and climate ministers of Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have committed to a joint ambition to transform the North Sea into the ‘Green Power Plant of Europe’, a move which is concerning Dutch fishermen.
At the North Sea Summit in Esbjerg, Denmark, it was announced on Wednesday 18 May that these four countries would significantly increase the production of wind energy in the North Sea and that they would cooperate more closely. The statement they signed also states that the countries will work together on ‘energy hubs’ at sea that connect multiple countries.
The number of wind turbines in the North Sea will increase significantly to meet more than half of the European Union’s need for sustainable energy by 2050. The image of more than 10,000 wind turbines in the North Sea is not being received with cheers by everyone. It is understandable that there are major concerns among fisheries, shipping and defence about the effects on their activities. Nature and environmental organisations are more optimistic but are concerned about the effects on nature. And even the wind energy sector itself is urging caution.
The scaling up to large-scale wind energy will take place in two steps: first 65 gigawatts in 2030 and then at least 150 gigawatts in 2050. Halfway through this century, half of the European Union will be supplied with climate neutral energy. At the same time, hydrogen production will also be scaled up to 20 gigawatts by 2030 and beyond. The Netherlands and Denmark are going to work together on the infrastructure of energy islands to be able to bring the generated electricity ashore. In total, three declarations were signed last Wednesday: between heads of state , between climate ministers and between the Netherlands and Denmark .
Dutch Minister for Climate and Energy Rob Jetten, “The cooperation between the four North Sea neighbouring countries is important for us – and Europe – to produce more green energy and become less dependent on fossil fuels. With the 150 gigawatts of wind energy, more than 200 million European households can be supplied with green energy. The four countries are in a unique position to take advantage of what the North Sea has to offer: a lot of wind power and a shallow seabed. Connecting the energy hubs and sharing knowledge and resources will help us achieve the joint climate and energy goals and I look forward to developing this further together.”
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte also warned that a balance must be maintained between the interests of fishing, nature and energy: “We cannot fill the North Sea with windmills without consultation with the other sectors”.
Dutch fishing organisation, Nederlandse Vissersbond expressed their concerns over the plans which will drive fishing out of the North Sea. They said:
“Who will pay the price for industrializing the North Sea? What are the effects on the ecosystem of the many windmills, cables, islands and other infrastructure that will appear in the North Sea in the next 30 years? What measures can be taken to counteract the negative effects of wind energy on birds, fish, benthic life and marine mammals? Wageningen Marine Research tries to provide policymakers with scientific insight to be able to make the right choices. The research into the effect of large-scale wind energy on nature was already presented in 2021.
“Optimists even believe that wind energy will make nature richer. Creating artificial structures on which nature can develop. All a beautiful underwater cultural landscape, but we are losing the primeval nature, the unique ecosystem of the North Sea, for good. No matter how beautifully it is presented, wind energy and nature go well together, they will never be the same again. That is a political choice that this generation makes for future generations.
“The fisherman looks at it with sorrow. Rich fishing grounds are being destroyed and made impassable. The infinite view is no more because everywhere there are blades that turn on the horizon. Apart from the emotional pain that this entails, there is also the lack of future prospects for the fishing company. Changing the beacons is what a fisherman is used to doing, but this large-scale change of the North Sea is beyond anything. A few may well continue to earn a living from fishing in the future, between the poles of the wind turbines, but for most fishing companies the end of a long history. If policy makers do not change course, not only the North Sea but also the fishermen will foot the bill for Europe’s Green Power Plant. How green is that?”