Interior ponders future leasing off S.C. coast

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Interior Department said it is gauging industry’s interest in developing wind farms off the South Carolina coast.

The agency is also beginning a National Environmental Policy Act review to determine whether it is appropriate to lease four areas covering 1,100 square miles off the Palmetto State shores.

Both announcements — the call for industry interest and the notice of intentto prepare a NEPA review — are open to 60 days of public comment.

“Today’s milestone marks another important step in the president’s strategy to tap clean, renewable energy from the Nation’s vast wind and solar resources,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “We know South Carolina has important wind energy potential, and we will work with stakeholders through a collaborative effort to identify high potential/low conflict areas for development, supporting investment and jobs in South Carolina.”

The announcement is the first of many federal steps necessary to permit wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean. If a lease sale is approved, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would auction development rights to the highest bidder. Construction of a commercial-scale wind farm is still likely several years off.

BOEM identified four potential leasing areas — Grand Strand, Cape Romain, Winyah and Charleston — in consultation with the South Carolina Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force. A map of the potential leasing areas, which begin about 3 miles from shore, can be found here.

An environmental assessment will explore the environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with auctioning the waters for wind energy. Such reviews typically look at conflicts with sensitive marine species and other ocean uses such as shipping and fishing, as well as visual impacts from beaches.