An ocean management plan, released by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), provides new protections for critical environmental resources in nearly two-thirds of the commonwealth's coastal waters and sets standards for the development of community-scale and commercial-scale offshore wind energy as well as other infrastructure.
The final ocean plan raises standards for the protection of the most sensitive marine species and habitats, allows for more community-scale wind energy development, creates a formal role for regional planning authorities in wind energy planning, and outlines a five-year, $2.5 million dollar research plan to be pursued in partnership with, and funded by, the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, a private nonprofit group.
Like the draft plan, the final ocean plan creates three management categories for the planning area defined by the Oceans Act. The prohibited area, located in the region of state waters east of lower Cape Cod coincident with the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary and abutting the Cape Cod National Seashore, is designated by law where most uses, activities and facilities are expressly prohibited.
In the multi-use area, which constitutes nearly two-thirds of the planning area, strong new protections are established for critical species like rare marine mammals and avifauna and for critical habitat such as eelgrass beds and submerged rocky areas.
Finally, in two areas constituting 2% of the planning area, the plan identifies zones suitable for commercial-scale wind energy development. Adjacent to these areas, EEA has identified potentially suitable locations in federal waters for commercial-scale wind energy development.
At the commonwealth's request, the U.S. Minerals Management Service has convened a federal-state task force to assist in the planning and regulatory review associated with leasing areas of federal waters for large-scale wind energy development.
For community-scale renewable energy projects, the plan allocates a set number of wind turbines to each of the state's seven regional planning authorities on a sliding scale based on the region's length of shoreline and area of coastal waters, and also requires that the host community endorse the project and that economic benefits from the project – in terms of energy, royalties and/or other municipal improvements – are directed back to the host community.
Beginning this month, state agencies will implement the plan by undertaking a public rule-making to bring existing environmental regulations into compliance with the increased protection required by the final plan.