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Offshore wind resources in the United States are not only vast; they are located near fast-growing electricity demand centers, as coastal areas are among the most heavily populated parts of the country. Offshore wind development therefore offers something that is extremely valuable for our economy, environment, and national security: a source of clean, domestic, inexhaustible energy with which to meet fast-growing electricity demand, in close proximity to population centers. Wind farms are also likely to be built in areas with large regional power markets that facilitate smooth and cost-effective integration of wind into the overall electric system. While many other countries have wind projects installed in offshore waters, the U.S. does not yet have any offshore wind projects.
However, there have been a number of significant offshore wind milestones in the U.S. in 2011, including:
In February, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu unveiled a coordinated strategic plan, A National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States, which pursues the deployment of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030 and they announced $50.5 million in funding opportunities for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment.
Also in February, Secretary Salazar announced the creation of high priority Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) through the “Smart from the Start” Initiative and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) designated the leasing areas included in the Delaware and Maryland Requests for Information (RFIs) as WEAs. This announcement also designated WEAs off the coasts of New Jersey and Virginia, and outlined plans to identify additional WEAs off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year.
In March, the Secretary of the Interior and BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich announced the initiation of the process to offer the first commercial wind lease under the “Smart from the Start” Initiative off the coast of Delaware. The decision followed a determination that there was no competitive interest for commercial wind energy development in this area.
In April, BOEMRE announced a Call for Information and Nominations (Call) for wind energy development offshore of New Jersey. Also in April, the Secretary of the Interior announced that BOEMRE approved a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) for Cape Wind. Construction of this project could begin as early as the fall. Additional RFIs and Calls are expected soon in a number of states, including Rhode Island, and this follows the announcement of RFIs for Maryland and Massachusetts in late 2010.
Economic opportunities from offshore wind
Under the scenario outlined in the National Offshore Wind Strategy, the development of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030, could spur manufacturing, job creation, assembly and transport activity in coastal regions, thereby contributing to the clean technology economy.
Challenges for offshore wind
Offshore wind power in the United States is still in its infancy, compared to land-based wind. Offshore wind projects must strike a viable balance between technological and economic challenges. Further, offshore technology has had to adapt to more challenging environmental elements in order to be successful. The latest generation of offshore turbines is equipped to meet the challenges of the saline environment and tough weather conditions, which can limit access for routine maintenance. Offshore turbines can continue to take advantage of economies of scale as their size increases.
Federal offshore wind energy regulations
Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to grant leases on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for alternative energy projects, including offshore wind energy projects. The Secretary delegated this authority to the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
On April 29, 2009, BOEMRE, which was formally the Minerals Management Service (MMS) promulgated the Renewable Energy and Alternate Uses of Existing Facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf (REAU) rule.
The environmental compliance reviews required for the leasing process are conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for major actions including: lease issuance, plan approval (site assessment, construction and operation) and decommissioning activities.
This process includes a review of air quality, water quality, marine mammals, sea turtles, birds, bats, seafloor habitats, physical oceanography, coastal habitats, socioeconomics, cultural resources, fisheries, and multiple use conflicts.
In addition to NEPA, other environmental consultations include: the Coastal Zone Management Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Essential Fish Habitat), National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106), Endangered Species Act (Section 7), Clean Air Act, and the Migratory Birds Treaty Act.
There are a number of federal agencies in addition to BOEMRE involved in the offshore wind permitting process including: the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, and Department of Defense.
AWEA has commented extensively throughout the development of the BOEMRE program:
• February 28, 2006 – AWEA comments on MMS Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
• May 21, 2007 – AWEA comments on MMS draft PEIS
• January 7, 2008 – AWEA comments on MMS interim policy
• February 12, 2008 – AWEA comments on MMS draft lease
• March 12, 2008 – AWEA comments on the Cape Wind draft PEIS
• September 8, 2008 – AWEA comments on the MMS Proposed Rule