Offshore wind energy development leasing process launched

Offshore wind energy development leasing process launched

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— Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Interior

The initial steps to develop commercial wind energy on the outer continental shelf off the shores of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have begun. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael R. Bromwich announced the beginning of the development effort on August 17.

A Call for Information and Nominations (call notice) invites developers to identify locations within an offshore area where they would seek commercial leases for developing wind energy projects, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) press release. This is a first step in the possible leasing process and does not involve the sale or issuance of leases.

Based on responses to the call notice, BOEMRE will determine whether there is interest in leasing and whether there is competitive interest in specific locations within the designated offshore area.

“Today’s announcement reflects the kind of efficient, forward-thinking planning we must do to quickly and responsibly start up an American offshore wind industry,” Secretary Salazar said on a visit to North Kingston, Rhode Island, on August 17. “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.”

The call notice is linked to the DOI’s “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative to spur rapid and responsible siting, leasing, and construction of new wind projects, the press release explains. The initiative aims to improve coordination with state, local and federal partners, identify and refine priority areas for potential wind energy development, and conduct early environmental reviews.

The area identified in the call notice was developed by BOEMRE, in consultation with Massachusetts and Rhode Island officials. It is a subsection of an Area of Mutual Agreement (AMI) established by the two states’ governors. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a memorandum of agreement in July 2010, in which they designated an AMI in federal waters.

The AMI covers 400-square miles in Rhode Island Sound beginning 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and extending 20 miles westward toward Block Island. The governors also agreed that both states would collaborate in the process to permit and develop offshore wind energy projects.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Malden), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over offshore wind energy, applauded the announcement about the offshore wind projects as promising for creating jobs, harnessing innovation, and reducing pollution.

He also cautioned that even with an ideal permitting system in place, the nation’s first offshore wind projects may not get off the ground without financial assistance.

“That is why the Department of Energy, and the House Republicans decimating their clean energy budget, must work to ensure financing assistance is available to first-of-a-kind energy projects like Cape Wind,” Representative Markey said. “Otherwise, America’s clean energy future — and New England’s leadership position in it — will be gone with the wind.”

BOEMRE is seeking public comments as it prepares an environmental assessment (EA) to determine impacts associated with issuing leases in the potential wind energy area. The bureau 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.

A fact sheet about the possible leasing process and information about submitting comments, due by October 3, 2011, are available online at www.doi.gov.

The call notice announced last week is separate from BOEMRE’s earlier Request for Interest (RFI), issued on December 29, 2010, for the purpose of gauging interest in future wind energy development on the outer continental shelf, directly offshore Massachusetts.

The RFI area was selected through consultation with the Massachusetts Renewable Energy task force, an interagency group led by BOEMRE. It covered an additional area of the AMI, about 12 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

In April, Vineyard Power (VP), a community-owned energy cooperative based here, signed an agreement and entered into a partnership with OffshoreMW, an offshore wind developer owned by the Blackstone Group.

The collaboration, known as the Martha’s Vineyard Offshore Wind Alliance (MVOWA), VP, and OffshoreMW submitted a lease application on April 15 to BOEMRE in response to the RFI to develop an offshore renewable energy wind farm.

The MVOWA was one of 10 applicants that responded to the RFI by the deadline. Others included big developers such as Cape Wind, Neptune, and Bluewater.

BOEMRE is currently reviewing the information and nominations received in response to the RFI issued last December and will draft a separate call notice to determine competitive interest after consulting with the BOEMRE-Massachusetts Renewable Energy task force, according to the DOI press release.