Interior launches review of leasing area off Mass.

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Obama administration today announced plans to offer potentially hundreds of thousands of acres of federal waters off Massachusetts for commercial wind development, the latest in a sweeping Interior Department push to expand the nation’s renewable energy portfolio.

The wind energy area about 10 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard was trimmed to avoid an area of high sea duck concentration, as well as an area important to commercial and recreational fishermen, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.

At nearly 750,000 acres, the area is the sixth wind energy zone to be identified for future leasing in the Atlantic Ocean after the agency finalized plans off the coasts of Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware and launched a review of a 165,000-acre area between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in February.

“The wind energy area that we are announcing today is the result of extensive work with our partners in the commonwealth and with a broad community of stakeholders as we move forward with responsible leasing and development of offshore wind resources,” BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement. “The area off of Massachusetts has tremendous energy generation potential, and we will continue to evaluate and mitigate the potential impacts of offshore wind energy development on wildlife habitat, fisheries and sea bird migration.”

The agency said it is beginning an environmental assessment to consider, among other things, potential impacts to endangered North Atlantic right whales and coastal scenery, in addition to potential mitigation options such as seasonal vessel restrictions, speed limits and enhanced monitoring.

The review will consider the impacts of issuing wind development rights and the installation of testing equipment such as buoys and meteorological towers. Commercial projects, which are likely at least a few years away, would require a separate analysis.

A summary and map of the wind energy area can be found here.

Today’s announcement should be an encouraging sign to investors, said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for the conservation group Oceana in North America.

“Today’s announcement is a step forward in the much-needed clean energy transformation,” Savitz said. “If done right, offshore wind can be a big part of the solution to our climate problems.”

While offshore wind has grown at a steady clip in Europe, the United States has yet to break ground on any commercial projects, despite Obama administration plans to develop 10 gigawatts by 2020 and 54 GW by 2030.

Firms face steep construction costs, a lack of transmission infrastructure, financing hurdles and some local opposition to having turbines on the ocean horizon.

For Cape Wind Associates LLC, which is developing a 130-turbine project off the coast of Massachusetts that could be the nation’s first, lawsuits, regulatory delays and challenges selling its power have extended development more than a decade.

Industry officials and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have urged Congress to extend the investment tax credit set to expire at the end of the year, as well as approve a clean energy standard. Agency officials have said they expect the first competitive offshore wind lease sale to take place this year.