Using an approach that it says has helped get solar energy projects started on public lands in the West, the Department of the Interior is launching what it calls a “Smart from the Start” wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.
According to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the new initiative will identify priority Wind Energy Areas for potential development, improve coordination with local, state, and federal partners and accelerate the leasing process.
“To fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape,” he said.
As part of the effort announced today, BOEMRE is proposing a revision to its regulations to simplify the leasing process for offshore wind in cases where there is only one qualified and interested developer. The revision eliminates a redundant step, and will potentially save up to 6-12 months in the leasing process.
Under the “Smart from the Start” initiative, BOEMRE will work with state partners to identify WEAs off the coasts of a number of Atlantic states within the next 60 days.
By January 2011, Requests for Interest and Calls for Information will be issued for these new WEAs to support lease sale environmental assessments. Maryland’s Request for Information has already been issued and those for New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are being developed. Additional WEAs will be identified in 2011 for other Atlantic States, which may include areas offshore New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
BOEMRE will assist in developing site assessment data and evaluating potential WEA leasing.
In January 2011, BOEMRE will initiate a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with site assessment activities in identified WEAs. It promises “rapid and close” coordination with other federal agencies to compile existing site assessment data.
If no significant impacts are identified in WEAs, BOEMRE would offer leases in these areas by the end of 2011/early 2012.
Developers will still need appropriate and comprehensive site-specific NEPA review of individual projects. BOEMRE says it will work directly with project proponents to ensure that those reviews “take place on aggressive schedules” with frequent interagency communications and dedicated staff.
BOEMRE says it will move forward on a parallel track, to process applications to build offshore transmission lines. The identification of wind energy areas should assist the siting and feasibility reviews associated with potential offshore transmission lines.