Feds will host public meeting Monday on wind farms south of Vineyard

This map shows the Massachusetts call for Information and nominations area on a NOAA nautical chart background. — Photo by BOEM

The Obama administration Friday hit the on switch for wind farm development south of Martha’s Vineyard. In a joint press conference Friday with Massachusetts officials, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), announced that it is soliciting interest in commercial wind energy development on the outer continental shelf (OCS).

The area under consideration is approximately 12 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 13 nautical miles southwest of Nantucket, and it is approximately 826,241 acres in size, according to a BOEM press release.

The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and will hold a public information meeting on Martha’s Vineyard from 5 to 7 pm on Monday, February 13, in the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven. Officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will attend.

The purpose of the meeting, according to a press release, “is to provide information and take public comment on BOEM’s issuance of a Call for Information and Nominations and Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the potential development of offshore wind energy projects in an area of federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf south of Massachusetts.”

The Call for Information and Nominations invites developers to identify locations within the offshore area in which they may seek commercial leases for developing wind projects. It also requests information from the public and interested parties about site conditions, resources and multiple uses in and proximate to the area that could assist BOEM with its review of any nominations and/or subsequent decisions relevant to offering leases in all or part of the area.

“BOEM recognizes the proactive steps that the Commonwealth has taken to encourage environmentally sound offshore wind energy development, and we are working together to refine a suitable Wind Energy Area off the coast of Massachusetts,” BOEM director Tommy P. Beaudreau said Friday. “We will follow marine spatial planning principles as we continue to gather information and coordinate with other OCS users throughout the leasing process.”

“Massachusetts is in the midst of a clean energy revolution, making investments in renewable energy projects across the state,” Massachusetts energy undersecretary Barbara Kates-Garnick said. “These projects stabilize long-term energy costs, create homegrown sources of energy and create local jobs. We’re thrilled to have the support of our federal partners in these efforts and look forward to future collaboration.”

BOEM had originally identified a larger lease area for development. In April 2011, the Patrick Administration asked for a redefinition to remove from further consideration certain areas identified by commercial fishermen, fisheries scientists, and other maritime users as vital to the state’s fishing industry.

In response, BOEM reduced the proposed lease area’s size by about 50 percent. BOEM said it would seek public comment as part of the environmental assessment process “on the environmental and socioeconomic issues to be considered as well as alternatives and mitigation measures.”

State and federal officials hope this process will pave the way to speedier wind farm development in offshore areas.

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

The Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Assessment seeks public comment on the environmental and socioeconomic issues to be considered as well as alternatives and mitigation measures. The purpose of the Environmental Assessment will be to inform decision makers and determine if there are impacts associated with issuing potential leases and approving site assessment activities in all or part of the area, according to EEA.