As part of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's Smart from the Start initiative for Atlantic offshore wind development, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is seeking public comment on a draft environmental assessment (EA) that considers potential environmental and socioeconomic effects of issuing renewable energy leases in designated wind energy areas (WEAs) offshore New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.Â
The draft EA also considers 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.Â
This draft EA is part of the Smart from the Start initiative to facilitate efficient and environmentally responsible development of renewable energy resources on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The initiative includes the identification of areas on the OCS that appear to be suitable for renewable energy development and where BOEMRE will focus its leasing efforts.
Any leases ultimately issued will not authorize construction or operations; instead, specific proposed projects will be the subject of subsequent environmental review and analysis, with additional opportunities for public comment.Â
BOEMRE identified the WEAs offshore the Mid-Atlantic states in consultation with other federal agencies and BOEMRE's state renewable energy task forces.
In February, BOEMRE announced these areas in a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EA for Mid-Atlantic WEAs.Â Â
BOEMRE requested public input to identify the important environmental issues associated with leasing and site assessment activities within the identified WEAs, along with alternatives to consider in the EA.Â
While the news from the agency is generally considered positive for the industry, some states were affected more than others. For example, pointing to concerns about shipping safety, BOEMRE reduced the lease area off Ocean City, Md., by 56% from 206 square nautical miles to 94 square nautical miles.Â
Generally speaking, however, any efforts to cut down the time associated in permitting offshore wind farms represents progress, according Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition.Â
‘The issuance of the draft EA for the Mid-Atlantic region is very good news for the offshore wind industry and the high skilled workers and equipment manufacturers who will employ them,’ he says. ‘If the EA is approved and BOEMRE issues a finding of no significant impact related to the issuance of a lease, then it's likely that two years can be taken off the current seven- to nine- year permitting timeline.’