U.S. looks to east coast for offshore wind energy

U.S. regulators said they started the steps needed to advance offshore wind power off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich to announce from Washington that the government had taken preliminary steps to develop commercial wind turbines off the U.S. coast. The agency directors invited developers to look at areas off the U.S. East Coast that would be good for commercial wind farm projects. The BOEMRE is asking for public comments on potential environmental issues.

"This is a major step forward in our efforts to promote wind energy off the Atlantic Coast," Bromwich said in a statement. State senators said the first steps toward offshore wind energy would be good for the creation of a manufacturing base along the east coast.  The government identified four wind energy areas off the coast of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia early this year.

“Secretary Salazar has been a leader in America’s pursuit of offshore wind energy, an abundant source of domestic, emissions-free renewable energy that has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Massachusetts and throughout the region,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. “I applaud the Secretary’s efforts to advance this next round of offshore wind farm projects while ensuring continued engagement with citizens, elected officials, fishermen, and tribal and environmental organizations.”

“We want to make Rhode Island a national leader in renewable energy development and bring manufacturing jobs and business to the state,” said Senator Reed. “I appreciate Secretary Salazar coming to Rhode Island to see firsthand the important federal investments we have made in the state and the exciting potential we have for developing offshore wind off Rhode Island’s shores in a thoughtful and inclusive way. I look forward to all parties continuing to build upon the extensive stakeholder input already invested as we move forward.”

"Rhode Island stands ready to fuel tomorrow’s energy economy by building turbines for offshore wind farms, creating good-paying jobs in a new manufacturing industry here," said Senator Whitehouse, a cosponsor of the Offshore Wind Power Act. “Secretary Salazar’s announcement today is an important step toward realizing that goal, and is a testament to our state’s leadership in this area."

"As we learned when manufacturing and textile industries left several years ago, our economy cannot rely solely on trying to bring the same businesses back," said Representative Langevin. "Investing in new technology means investing in new jobs. The renewable energy sector will attract research, capital, and manufacturing jobs, which I hope will be based right here in Quonset."

"Today’s announcement is extremely important because this project has the potential to create hundreds of good-paying jobs in our state that cannot be outsourced and it will undoubtedly help our environment by moving us away from our dependence on foreign oil," said Representative Cicilline.

Today’s announcement is the latest step in the “Smart from the Start” offshore wind initiative to facilitate efficient and environmentally responsible renewable energy development offshore by improving coordination with state, local and federal partners, identifying and refining priority areas for potential development and conducting early environmental reviews.

Four wind energy areas offshore Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia were identified in February this year, and BOEMRE expects to begin the commercial leasing process in those states as early as 2012. Potential wind energy areas will also be identified soon in additional states, such as Massachusetts and North Carolina, and those areas will be subject to similar environmental assessments as the area identified today. This year, Salazar also approved the Cape Wind farm project, the first commercial wind turbine farm on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The designated location under consideration in today’s announcement – the Call area – is within an Area of Mutual Interest (AMI) identified by the state of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in a landmark agreement in July 2010. The Call area was subsequently identified through consultation with BOEMRE’s Rhode Island and Massachusetts Renewable Energy Task Forces, which include federal, state, and tribal government partners, and using information gathered by the State of Rhode Island in its Special Area Management Plan for the AMI. Both BOEMRE and state officials gathered stakeholder input before finalizing the Call area.

The public is encouraged to provide information about site conditions, resources and multiple uses in the Call area that can assist BOEMRE in reducing or eliminating obvious conflicts, including potentially refining the Wind Energy Area ultimately identified for proposed future commercial leasing. Before any leases are issued, BOEMRE will complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine impacts associated with issuing leases in the potential Wind Energy Area. Proposed offshore wind projects will receive comprehensive, site-specific analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.