Favorable Environmental Assessment Boosts Plans for Offshore Wind Farms in Atlantic

By Alan Kovski  

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A leasing program for wind farms in designated areas off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia will have no significant environmental impact, according to an environmental assessment by the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The finding eases the way for a program of lease auctions for offshore wind energy sites. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, at a Feb. 2 news conference in Baltimore with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said Interior wants to auction leases off the coast of Maryland during 2012.

Had the environmental assessment led to an expectation of significant impact, Interior would have had to write a more elaborate environmental impact statement, which could have taken two years. But observers had anticipated the finding of no significant impact. (See related story; 21 WCCR, 2/1/12.)

“We now know which areas off Maryland are going to be available for lease in a relatively short space of time,” O'Malley said. Explaining his interest in offshore wind energy, he said, “This is the largest renewable energy source in our state.”

The environmental assessment does not guarantee that Interior will not need to produce an environmental assessment or even an environmental impact statement for any individual project, but it does at least leave open the possibility that no further assessment will be needed.

Concerns Raised About Bureaucratic Speed

The pace of federal, state, and corporate action on offshore wind energy was a central issue for Salazar and O'Malley. Both men praised President Obama for stepping up the pace of government agency activity in advancing the prospects for building wind turbines on the Outer Continental Shelf.

“No developer should have to wait nine or 10 years to get a lease,” Salazar said, alluding to the time it had taken for Cape Wind Associates LLC to win approval for a 130-turbine project off the Massachusetts coast. That project, the first offshore wind farm approved for U.S. waters, still has some obstacles to overcome before construction begins. (See related story; 251 WCCR, 12/28/11.)

Another project had advanced as far as having a contract for the sale of power from a wind farm that would be built off the coast of Delaware. But that project, Bluewater Wind, was put on hold indefinitely in December. NRG Energy Inc., parent firm for Bluewater Wind, said it was unable to find an investment partner and was terminating its power purchase agreement with Delmarva Power & Light Co. (See related story; 58 WCCR, 3/24/11.)

Salazar and O'Malley also said their optimism about offshore renewable energy was buoyed by a proposal for an undersea power transmission “backbone,” a reference to the Atlantic Wind Connection, which could connect a string of offshore wind farms to onshore transmission networks. A decision by Interior on whether to grant a right-of-way for that proposal, by developer Atlantic Grid Development LLC, is due within months. (See related story; 247 WCCR, 12/20/11.)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) issued a statement praising Interior for completing the environmental review. Lautenberg said the initiative “will help New Jersey become a national leader in wind energy innovation.”

Document Notice, Call for Nominations

An Interior notice on the availability of the environmental assessment was scheduled for publication in the Feb. 3 Federal Register. The environmental assessment is to be posted on an Interior web page, at http://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/Smart-from-the-Start/Index.aspx.

Interior also issued a call for information and nominations for commercial leases on the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Maryland. That notice, too, was scheduled for publication in the Feb. 3 Federal Register.

The notice is being used not only to solicit lease nominations but also to request comments from interested and affected parties regarding site conditions, resources, and multiple uses of the identified area.

The area stretches from 10 miles to 23 miles east of Ocean City, Md. It also stretches about 13 miles from its northern edge to its southern edge.

For More Information

For more information on the environmental assessment completed for a program of wind farm leases off the mid-Atlantic coast, contact Michelle Morin, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, at (703) 787-1340 or michelle.morin@boem.gov.

For more information on the call for information and nominations for commercial leases off the coast of Maryland, contact Aditi Mirani, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, at (703) 787-1320.