WASHINGTON—As momentum to build large-scale U.S. offshore wind farms continues, a new guide released today will increase public transparency into the federal regulatory process governing offshore wind energy development. The new Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide
, produced by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW), details the process and opportunities for public stakeholders and interested parties wishing to have their opinion heard.
Offshore wind promises to supply large amounts of clean energy to America’s largest cities and coastal regions, while launching tens of thousands of new careers and generating new investments in coastal infrastructure. Even so, all infrastructure development has unintended impacts, and members of other ocean industries and coastal communities have made it clear they want a say in the offshore wind development process. Those opportunities exist, but the process is sometimes opaque.
To that end, AWEA and SIOW partnered to produce the new guide designed to highlight public participation opportunities in the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (housed within the U.S. Department of the Interior) regulatory process that governs leasing of areas on the Outer Continental Shelf for renewable energy development.
“We recognize that offshore wind development has an impact on coastal communities, traditional ocean industries, ocean users, and U.S. national security interests,” said Laura Smith Morton, AWEA Senior Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Offshore Wind.
“This guide is meant to draw attention to the opportunities for public feedback in BOEM’s regulatory process to ensure we realize an American offshore wind industry that works for us all.”
“The offshore wind sector has heard the frustration expressed by some ocean users and we understand a new industry raises questions,” said Nancy Sopko, Executive Director of SIOW
. “We urge any interested parties—fishermen, coastal residents, scientists, the military—to take advantage of the public participation opportunities outlined in this guide. Your feedback and expertise matters, ultimately helping the industry find a balance that enables offshore wind development to co-exist and prosper along with other ocean users.”
Interested parties—including members of the general public, industries, all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and educational institutions—have numerous opportunities for comment throughout the BOEM’s regulatory process. There are a number of public comment periods (between 30 and 60 days long) and several public meetings (the exact number varies from case to case) before a single wind turbine can begin construction.
Public participation from other ocean users, including the fishing industry and coastal communities, is essential to help the U.S. fully realize the benefits of offshore wind power. Early feedback helps projects avoid potential conflicts, benefiting wind developers and other ocean users alike. Feedback is valuable at any stage of development, though ideally interested parties should provide input from the very first public comment period following a Call for Information from BOEM regarding potential locations for offshore wind development.
Feedback given to BOEM regarding offshore wind development makes a difference. As a result of public input, the final designation of a Wind Energy Area is generally adjusted from initial proposals to better avoid sensitive areas and potential use conflicts.
The new guide outlines only the public participation opportunities required by law throughout the BOEM regulatory process for offshore wind development, but the public’s ability to provide feedback is not limited to this process alone. Interested parties may also provide input through regional fishery management councils, state permitting processes, and state fisheries, habitat, and environmental working groups, among other opportunities.
Leaders representing public groups and industry organizations commented on the Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide:
"RODA understands how difficult it can be for affected parties to maximize their participation in the very complex permitting process for offshore wind projects,” said Annie Hawkins, Executive Director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance
. “We therefore appreciate AWEA and SIOW's work to clarify the federal elements of that process in a format that's easily accessible to the public, and hope this guide is useful to fishermen and anyone interested in having their voice heard."
“The most dynamic plans form through an inclusive and collaborative process, which is why public input is essential not only to permitting but also to our entire operation,” said Jessica Dealy, Lead of Atlantic Shores External Affairs
. “This guide is an important tool in making sure we are coming together as a community and an industry to get offshore wind right.”
“The most important part of developing an offshore wind project is listening to and working with all stakeholders to build clean energy projects that deliver long-term value to coastal communities,” said Jenny Briot, Offshore Business Development Director for Avangrid Renewables
. “The SIOW and AWEA Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide will be a helpful tool in advancing collaboration among all groups working to transform our energy future.”
“Development of the US offshore wind industry can’t fully succeed without intensive and sustained collaboration among wind farm developers and the many other commercial, recreational, and non-profit interests that share the ocean,” said Bill White, EnBW North America Managing Director.
“Created by respected experts at AWEA and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, this new Public Participation Guide is an important new tool for ensuring early and effective engagement by the public and an array of stakeholders as we build this new industry critical to the country’s clean energy future.”
“Maintaining strong relationships with local communities is important to the development of our innovative offshore wind projects,” said John Hartnett, President of Mayflower Wind LLC.
“We hope the SIOW-AWEA public participation guide will more easily inform the public on how they can participate in this process. We're encouraged by the prospect of using this guide to broaden our lines of communication with more ocean users.”
“Stakeholder engagement is critical to the development of any offshore wind project,” said Kris Ohleth, Senior Stakeholder Relations Manager of Ørsted
. “The Public Participation Guide as developed by the SIOW and AWEA will be a key tool for working with a variety of stakeholders as it delivers an approachable and concise explanation of the offshore wind development process.”
“Vineyard Wind has relied on valuable input from various stakeholders in all of our proposals to provide clean, safe and reliable energy to New England and New York,” said Rachel Pachter, Chief Development Officer for Vineyard Wind.
“We look forward to using the SIOW and AWEA Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide to continue working alongside fisheries, marine scientists, coastal communities, NGOs, and others to develop a strong and responsible American offshore wind industry.”
The offshore wind industry is committed to going above and beyond what is outlined in this guide to provide opportunities for public participation. For example, offshore wind developers have collectively held thousands of voluntary meetings with other ocean users, including fishermen, fishing groups and local communities. The industry continually looks for ways to expand engagement.
Though interest in offshore wind has accelerated in just a few years, BOEM has worked since 2009 to ensure that responsible renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf best serves the American public. As of January 2020, there are 15 active commercial lease areas for offshore wind development in U.S. federal waters, with more in the works.