The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is moving forward with the next step to consider commercial wind energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore Massachusetts.
Together with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, BOEM has completed the definition of a wind energy area (WEA) with high wind potential for possible commercial leasing.
The WEA begins approximately 12 nautical miles south of Martha's Vineyard and 13 nautical miles southwest of Nantucket. From its northern boundary, the area extends 33 nautical miles southward to the 60-meter-depth contour and has an east/west extent of approximately 47 nautical miles. The WEA is approximately 742,974 acres and contains 117 whole OCS lease blocks and 20 partial blocks.
In February, BOEM published a call for information and nominations for commercial leasing on the OCS offshore Massachusetts and a notice of intent to prepare an environmental assessment of the area.
After considering numerous comments submitted in response to the call, BOEM decided to exclude certain areas identified as important habitats that could be adversely affected if ultimately developed with the installation of wind turbine generators.
BOEM says it has excluded from the WEA an area of high sea-duck concentration, as well as an area of high-value fisheries, in order to reduce conflict with commercial and recreational fishing activities.
The fisheries exclusion area is a continuation of the Cox's Ledge area excluded from leasing consideration in the Rhode Island/Massachusetts WEA announced on Feb. 24. The excluded areas will not be considered further for leasing.
BOEM now will evaluate the WEA in an environmental assessment (EA), in which it will consider, among other things, the potential impacts on endangered North Atlantic right whales and the effects on viewshed. The EA also will consider mitigation measures that might reduce potential impacts on these and other resources in the WEA.
At this stage, BOEM is only considering the issuance of leases and approval of site assessment plans in this WEA. If, after leases are issued, a lessee proposes to construct a commercial wind energy facility, the company would submit a construction and operations plan, at which point BOEM would prepare a site-specific National Environmental Protection Act document for the proposed project.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. – who last month introduced legislation that would extend a number of federal incentives for renewable energy while stripping subsidies for fossil fuels – was quick to praise the DOI's efforts in furthering offshore wind energy development.
"We must capture the winds that whip off of our shores and realize all of the economic and environmental benefits that come with developing offshore wind energy," Markey said in a statement. "I commend the Interior Department on today's announcement and encourage them to move aggressively to adopt leasing procedures that allow developers to gain control of sites and begin their site assessment work as soon as possible."
More information on the WEA is available here.