Interior Department Advances Offshore Wind Proposals in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico

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As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of deploying 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030, the Department of the Interior has announced three major milestones to advance commercial offshore wind energy development.

The department will propose a lease sale for wind energy development in the Carolina Long Bay area offshore the Carolinas; initiate an environmental review of Mayflower Wind’s proposal for a commercial wind energy project offshore Massachusetts; and request information to further assess commercial interest in wind energy leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The department is seeking public input on all three proposals.

“These milestones represent great potential for addressing climate change through a clean, reliable, domestic energy resource while providing good-paying jobs,” states Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “We have an exciting road ahead, and Interior is up to the challenge! As we make progress toward deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the Department will continue to ensure any development of clean energy resources is done responsibly and sustainably.”

The Biden-Harris administration has made progress to spur responsible offshore wind development. These efforts are driving the establishment of a U.S. domestic supply chain and the creation of a clean energy economy. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed its review of a construction and operations plan for the Vineyard Wind project earlier this year, has 10 more underway, and plans to complete another five or more reviews by 2025 (for a total of at least 16 COP reviews).

In addition to preparing for a lease sale offshore the Carolinas, the administration is preparing for lease sales in the New York Bight and California next year and is actively working with states, tribes and stakeholders to explore wind potential offshore the Gulf of Maine, Oregon, Hawaii and the Gulf of Mexico.

“The milestones announced should result in even greater confidence for industry to invest in offshore wind energy development,” says BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “At the same time, we are asking for public input on all of these milestones because we want to do what we can to avoid, reduce or mitigate potential impacts to the marine environment and other ocean users when possible.”

BOEM is requesting public input on a proposed lease sale in federal waters in the Carolina Long Bay area offshore the Carolinas. BOEM will publish a proposed sale notice (PSN) in the Federal Register on Nov. 1, 2021, which will kick off a 60-day comment period ending on 11:59 p.m. ET on Jan. 3, 2022.

The proposed lease area consists of approximately 127,865 acres and includes the majority of the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area, which has the potential to unlock more than 1.5 GW of offshore wind energy and power more than 500,000 homes. As stated in the PSN, BOEM requests public input on potentially dividing the proposed lease area into as many as three lease areas.

Within the PSN, BOEM is soliciting feedback on a “multi-factor auction format,” which would include a monetary bid and bidding credits to determine the outcome of the auction. BOEM is seeking comment on the use of bidding credits for contributions to workforce training or development of the U.S. domestic supply chain for the offshore wind industry. Comments received by the end of the public comment period will be made available to the public and considered before BOEM decides whether to publish a Final Sale Notice, which would announce the time and date of the lease sale. 

Any prospective bidders wishing to participate in a Carolina Long Bay lease sale must submit qualification materials postmarked no later than Jan. 3, 2022. BOEM will host an auction seminar to discuss the auction format for prospective bidders.

The issuance of a lease resulting from this sale would not constitute an approval of project-specific plans to develop offshore wind energy facilities. Such plans, if submitted by the lessee, would be subject to subsequent environmental, technical, and public reviews prior to a decision on whether the proposed project should be authorized.

Mayflower Wind submitted a plan to construct and operate up to 147 wind turbines and up to 5 offshore power substations approximately 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and 23 miles south of Nantucket, Mass. The proposed project has the potential to generate over 2 GW of energy.

BOEM will publish a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in the Federal Register on Nov. 1, 2021, which will initiate a 30-day public comment period ending at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1. During this time, BOEM will hold three virtual public meetings and accept comments to inform the preparation of the EIS.

The public comments will help BOEM determine the scope of the important resources and issues, impact-producing factors, reasonable alternatives and potential mitigating measures that should be analyzed in the EIS. The meetings will be held on Nov. 10 at 5 p.m., Nov. 15 at 1 p.m., and Nov. 18, at 5 p.m. ET. At the end of the environmental review process, which is estimated to take about two years, BOEM will decide whether to approve Mayflower Wind’s plan.

BOEM will publish a call for information and nominations to further assess commercial interest in, and invite public comment on, possible commercial wind energy leasing in a proposed area in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The Call will publish in the Federal Register on Nov. 1, 2021, which will trigger a 45-day period for public comment and submissions indicating interest in commercial leasing, ending on 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 16.

The call area consists of almost 30 million acres just west of the Mississippi River to the Texas/Mexican border.

Before deciding whether and where leases may be issued, BOEM will consider the comments received on the call, conduct an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and consult with appropriate tribes, federal and state agencies to consider the environmental consequences associated with issuing commercial wind energy leases within the call area.

After completion of its environmental review, BOEM will consider the existing uses of the Call Area, as well as feedback from the GOM Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force and the public. BOEM will then decide whether to publish a PSN to describe the areas available for potential leasing and the proposed terms and conditions of the leases. There will be multiple opportunities for public input throughout this process.

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