The US Department of Interior (DoI) has announced completion of a preliminary environmental assessment paving the way for the auctioning of commercial leases for wind developments in federal waters off the northeastern United States.
The Rhode Island/ Massachusetts wind energy area comprises some 164,750 acres (66,672 ha), south of Martha’s Vineyard and east of Block Island.
Tendering for leases within the zone should be completed before the end of 2012, according to the DoI. "We are at the forefront of a renewable energy revolution," said Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar.
The environmental assessment is open to public comment for 30 days, with the DoI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) due to host public meetings before deciding whether more environmental analysis is needed prior to lease auctions.
Issues that that have been earmarked by the DoI for public discussion include the impact of offshore wind developments on the critically-endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, shipping, and visual and cultural resources.
In February, the DoI announced it had excluded "commercially important fishing grounds" from the area that will be home to offshore wind zones.
Developers express interest
Last year, eight companies said they are interested in bidding for offshore wind development leases within the Rhode Island/ Massachusetts wind energy area. They are:
- Deepwater Wind New England LLC
- Energy Management Inc
- Fishermen’s Energy LLC
- Iberdrola Renewables Inc
- Mainstream Renewable Power
- Neptune Wind LLC
- US Wind Inc.
Once leases have been awarded, developers can collect data and apply for a construction permit, which would be subject to further environmental review.
"This is an important step forward in the development of the best site in the Northeast for a utility-scale offshore wind farm," said William Moore, chief executive of Deepwater Wind. Deepwater Wind is planning a 1 GW wind project within the area, the Deepwater Wind Energy Centre (DWEC). However, the developer is closer to building its 30MW project off Block Island, in Rhode Island state waters (Windpower Offshore 29-Jun-12).
Environmental reviews have already been conducted for federal waters off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.