The U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has announced a finding that issuing wind energy leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas off the Mid-Atlantic coast will have no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts – a major step toward streamlining the development of offshore wind energy in this region.
This finding allows the DOI to move forward with the process for wind energy lease sales off Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.
‘Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we're moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects,’ says DOI Secretary Ken Salazar.
The agency prepared an environmental assessment of the potential impacts of issuing renewable energy leases, including reasonably foreseeable consequences associated with site characterization activities, such as geophysical, geotechnical, archeological and biological surveys in the "wind energy areas" off Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.
The environmental assessment also considered potential environmental impacts associated with site-assessment activities, such as the installation and operation of meteorological towers and buoys on leases that may be issued in these areas.
BOEM will use this environmental assessment to inform future leasing decisions in the Mid-Atlantic wind energy areas and to review site assessment plans. If a lessee proposes a wind energy generation project on its lease, BOEM will prepare a separate site- and project-specific analysis, under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), of its construction and operations plan, and provide additional opportunities for public involvement, the DOI explains.
BOEM has also published calls for information and nominations for Maryland and Virginia to solicit lease nominations from the industry and to request public comments regarding site conditions, resources and multiple uses of the "wind energy areas." These wind energy areas were designated in consultation with BOEM's intergovernmental renewable energy task forces and other federal agencies.
In addition, BOEM has announced the finalization of a new lease form that the bureau says will help streamline the issuance of renewable energy leases on the OCS. According to BOEM, this is an essential tool for providing access rights to renewable energy resources, and the bureau solicited public comment and conferred with industry, environmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as other stakeholders, when developing the form.
"We are moving toward commercial-scale offshore wind energy leasing in the Mid-Atlantic and adding the necessary tools to offer those leases," says BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau. "We considered public input and conducted a thorough analysis to ensure future projects are sited in the right places, where the wind energy potential is significant and where environmental effects and conflicts with other uses can be minimized and managed."
Financial (and other) terms, as well as any site-specific mitigation measures, will be added to each individual lease before it is executed. The lease form will be effective 15 days following publication in the Federal Register.
A positive step
Early industry reaction to the announcement has been positive.
"This is a critical step in the establishment of the U.S. offshore wind industry, which will create thousands of high-skilled jobs and allow for billions of dollars in investment," says Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition. "The [finding of no significant impact (FONSI)] has the potential to reduce the permitting timeline for offshore wind farms by as much as two years, as compared to a requirement that the agency prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for these "wind energy areas," which would require two years of studies and government reviews.
"The FONSI enables the department to issue leases to qualified developers, who would then be able to assess a specific site's potential to host an offshore wind farm and determine the best engineering and design requirements," he adds.
Developers will still be required to complete a comprehensive, project-specific EIS for any wind farm in federal waters, ensuring that all environmental, historical, cultural and other potential impacts are fully evaluated and shared with the public. This will happen before developers are given final approval to begin construction.Â