The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management today announced that it has completed an important step in identifying a Wind Energy Area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts under the Department of the Interior’s “Smart from the Start” wind energy initiative. The Wind Energy Area, which is within an area of mutual interest among Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is one of several areas along the Atlantic coast with high wind potential that BOEM is evaluating for commercial wind leasing.
“Today’s announcement is an important step toward development of our nation’s remarkable wind energy resource offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” said Department of Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “The Department will continue to do its part to build a world-class offshore wind industry that provides clean, reliable, home-grown power and the American jobs that come with it.”
The Wind Energy Area comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by Rhode Island and Massachusetts in a Memorandum of Understanding between the two states in 2010. Based on an extensive consultation process, BOEM narrowed the focus of the Wind Energy Area by excluding commercially important fishing grounds from the area. Other key considerations that will be further analyzed in the environmental assessment include the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, vessel traffic and visual and cultural resources.
“BOEM identified this Wind Energy Area following extensive collaboration with Rhode Island, Massachusetts and a diverse set of stakeholders, including fishing interests,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau. “This milestone is ‘Smart from the Start’ because it will help ensure that offshore wind projects are sited in the right places, where the wind energy potential is significant and where environmental effects and potential conflicts with other uses can be minimized and managed.”
State officials applauded the step as well. “I am excited about this announcement today as we move forward with offshore wind energy,” said Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. “Rhode Island is one of the leading states in the country in advancing offshore wind energy development. I am also pleased that state and federal officials are identifying the valuable fishing habitats within the Area of Mutual Interest being discussed for these offshore wind projects. There are important fishing habitats within those waters that need to be protected for the fishing and recreational community. As we move forward with these projects it is important that a strong dialogue continue with federal officials, the fishing and recreational communities, environmentalists, and the offshore wind industry.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also commented on the area identification. “I commend the Obama Administration for moving forward in support of offshore wind development in the region, while also respecting our important fishing grounds,” said Gov. Patrick. “We’re advancing offshore wind projects here in Massachusetts to meet our ambitious clean energy goals, and move away from the volatility of fossil fuels.”
In November 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched the “Smart from the Start” wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to facilitate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects. A critical piece of “Smart from the Start” included the identification of Wind Energy Areas, done in consultation with BOEM’s intergovernmental renewable energy task forces and other federal agencies, and the development of the environmental assessment to simplify the leasing process.
Secretary Salazar launched the competitive leasing process for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area with a Call for Information and Nominations in August 2011 that invited developers to identify locations within the area of mutual interest in which they seek commercial leases for wind projects.
BOEM also sought public comment — through both the Call and a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment — on important issues and reasonable alternatives related to the proposed leasing, site characterization and assessment activities in the area under consideration. The public provided information about site conditions, resources and multiple uses in the Call area that assisted BOEM in reducing or eliminating obvious conflicts and defining the Wind Energy Area ultimately identified for consideration for future commercial leasing.
The bureau analyzed public comments and information in conjunction with its Rhode Island and Massachusetts renewable energy task forces, which include federal, state, local and tribal government partners.
Before any leases are offered, BOEM will complete an environmental assessment to determine impacts associated with issuing leases in the Wind Energy Area. In addition, BOEM will conduct comprehensive site-specific National Environmental Policy Act review, including opportunities for public comment, for the construction of any proposed wind power facility.
BOEM identified four other Wind Energy Areas off the Atlantic Coast in February 2011, offshore New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The bureau expects to identify additional areas in the northeast and off the southern Atlantic states later this year. Those areas will be subject to similar environmental assessments as the locations identified today.