Interior launches leasing process for offshore wind power

As part of Interior’s “Smart from the Start” offshore wind power initiative to spur rapid and responsible siting, leasing and construction of new wind farm projects, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael R. Bromwich announced the initial steps to develop commercial wind energy on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

A Call for Information and Nominations (Call), which is available for review in today’s Federal Register, invites developers to identify locations within an offshore area in which they seek commercial leases for developing wind turbines projects. BOEMRE is also seeking public comment – through a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment – on important environmental issues and reasonable alternatives related to the proposed leasing, site characterization and assessment activities in the offshore area under consideration.

“Today’s announcement reflects the kind of efficient, forward-thinking planning we must do to quickly and responsibly stand up an American offshore wind energy industry,” Secretary Salazar said. “By focusing on priority areas with high wind potential and fewer conflicts and conducting early, coordinated reviews, we can accelerate the leasing process and drive investment, development, and jobs to Rhode Island and Massachusetts.”

“This is a major step forward in our efforts to promote wind energy off the Atlantic Coast,” said BOEMRE Director Bromwich. “We are seeking to determine commercial interest in the identified area and to collect information relevant to mitigating potential impacts to the environment that could result from these activities. This process will ensure that offshore wind projects are developed in the right way and in the right places.”

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 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.

BOEMRE will consult with other federal agencies, tribal governments, and affected states during the EA process and before a final decision is made on leases or site assessment activities. All comments or other information on the EA and the Call should be submitted by October 3, 2011, in one of the following ways: