Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced July 2 the publication of an environmental assessment for commercial wind leases and site assessment activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The environmental assessment is the first of its kind in the Northeast and is based on scientific and technical analysis as well as stakeholder input to identify the most suitable location for commercial wind energy activities in the area offshore the two states, Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said in the statement.
BOEM will use the environmental assessment for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area to inform future leasing decisions as part of the Obama administration’s “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative, which Salazar launched in November 2010 for the Atlantic OCS to facilitate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects, according to the statement.
The wind energy area comprises about 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
DOI also said BOEM will host public information sessions July 16 and 17 to further engage stakeholders and consider public comments on the environmental assessment in determining whether to issue a finding of no significant impact, or conduct additional analysis under NEPA in order to hold a lease sale for commercial offshore wind development.
A key component of the “Smart from the Start” initiative includes identifying wind energy areas, done in consultation with BOEM’s intergovernmental renewable energy task force and other federal agencies, and the development of the environmental assessment to simplify the leasing process.
DOI also said Salazar launched the competitive leasing process for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area with a call for information and nominations in August 2011, inviting developers to identify locations within the area of mutual interest in which they seek commercial leases for wind projects.
“When it comes to wind energy, we’re making significant progress both onshore and offshore to diversify our nation’s domestic energy portfolio and stand up a clean energy economy,” Salazar said in the statement.
One company interested in developing offshore wind energy in the Northeast is Deepwater Wind.
In a separate July 2 statement, the company noted that it plans to build its Deepwater Wind Energy Center (DWEC), a 1,000-MW wind farm, in the wind energy area BOEM referenced.
Deepwater Wind has proposed selling a large portion of the power generated from the project to the Long Island Power Authority in New York, as well as a transmission system linking Long Island, N.Y., to southern New England. The project site is within the “area of mutual interest” identified by the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 2010 as suitable for offshore wind development, the company added.
“This is an important step forward in the development of the best site in the Northeast for a utility-scale offshore wind farm,” Deepwater Wind CEO William Moore said in the statement. “We have a real opportunity to supply power from DWEC to several key markets in the region, and we’re hopeful that BOEM will issue a lease for this site in 2012.”
The environmental announcement that BOEM announced July 2 covers only site assessment activities and a lease award, Deepwater Wind said, adding that if the environmental assessment is finalized after a 30-day public comment period, BOEM will be able to award a lease for the area. That lease will allow data collection at the project site that is needed for submitting permit applications to build a wind farm. Then, those permit applications will be subject to another round of environmental assessment and public comment, the company added.
Moore said that while much work remains, DOI’s “announcement allows us to move to the next stage in the leasing and permitting process.”