Feds revise environmental review of offshore North Carolina wind leasing

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will announce in the Sept. 18 Federal Register the availability of a revised Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) related to offshore wind energy development.

The revised documents cover commercial wind lease issuance, site characterization activities (geophysical, geotechnical, archaeological, and biological surveys), and site assessment activities (including the installation and operation of a meteorological tower and/or buoys) on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf offshore North Carolina.

The revised EA provides a discussion of potential impacts of the proposed action and an analysis of reasonable alternatives to the proposed action. The FONSI concludes that the reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts associated with the proposed action and alternatives, as set forth in the EA, would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment; therefore, the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required.

In January of this year, BOEM published an EA to consider the reasonably foreseeable environmental consequences associated with commercial wind lease issuance, site characterization activities, and site assessment activities in three wind energy areas (WEAs) offshore North Carolina. The 2015 EA considered all three North Carolina WEAs for leasing and approval of site assessment plans as the proposed action under NEPA.

A Notice of Availability was published on Jan. 23 to announce the availability of the EA and initiate a 30-day public comment period. The EA was subsequently revised based on comments received during the comment period and public information meetings. The revised EA provides updated environmental data, additional details on how the WEAs were delineated, and analysis of potential effects to the proposed critical habitat expansion for North Atlantic right whales, which was published during the public comment period for the 2015 EA. A summary of comments received on the 2015 EA and BOEM’s responses to those comments is also provided in the revised EA.

In addition to the proposed action, the revised EA considers the following alternatives:

  • exclusion of the Wilmington West WEA from leasing;
  • seasonal restrictions on certain site characterization activities; and
  • no action.

BOEM’s analysis of the proposed action and alternatives takes into account standard operating conditions (SOCs) designed to avoid or minimize potential impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles. 

BOEM will use the revised EA to inform decisions to issue leases in the North Carolina WEAs, and to subsequently approve site assessment plans on those leases. BOEM may issue one or more commercial wind energy leases in the North Carolina WEAs. If a lessee is prepared to propose a wind energy generation facility on its lease, the lessee can submit a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) to BOEM. BOEM would then prepare a separate site- and project-specific National Environmental Policy Act analysis based on the activities proposed in the COP.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.