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USA: US begins process to lease wind blocks off Massachusetts

Published at: Feb 6, 2012
source: Recharge News
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The US Interior Department (DOI) and Massachusetts have initiated the process for leasing blocks for commercial offshore wind development in the Atlantic Ocean, calling on private companies to identify locations of interest for potential projects.

The US Interior Department (DOI) and Massachusetts have initiated the process for leasing blocks for commercial offshore wind development in the Atlantic Ocean, calling on private companies to identify locations of interest for potential projects. The blocks will be located within a “Call Area” proposed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the DOI agency that oversees wind energy resource in federal waters on the outer continental shelf, in consultation with the state.

The Call Area is approximately 826,241 acres (3,343.6sq km) and contains 132 whole lease blocks and 19 partial ones. It is located 12 nautical miles (22.2km) south of Martha’s Vineyard and 13 nautical miles southwest of Nantucket Island.

From its northern boundary, the Call Area extends 33 nautical miles southward to a 60-meter depth contour and has an east/west extent of approximately 47 nautical miles.

BOEM reduced area size by about half from its original proposal in December 2010 following discussions with federal, state and tribal partners, and other stakeholders such as the commercial fishing industry.

BOEM is also seeking public comment for its intention to prepare an Environmental Assessment for the Call Area. This will consider both environmental and socioeconomic issues, as well as alternatives and mitigation measures.

The agency will also conduct a review to identify historic properties in the proposed area, and determine whether wind farms and related infrastructure could potentially affect them. It is seeking public input for this issue as well.

The move comes several days after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced BOEM would proceed with leasing tracts within areas proposed along Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. BOEM’s assessment was that placing wind farms there would have no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts.

The agency will continue to work closely with Massachusetts to “refine a suitable” area for wind development. “We will follow marine spatial planning principles as we continue to gather information and coordinate with other outer continental shelf users throughout the leasing process,” says BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau.

State officials say they view offshore wind farms as an opportunity to stabilize long-term energy costs, create home-grown sources of energy and create local jobs.

Ten developers last year expressed preliminary interest in the original offshore area including Energy Management Inc., whose Cape Wind project would be located In Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod.

The flurry of DOI activity on offshore wind comes as President Barack Obama, whose administration has sought to jump-start the fledgling sector since he took office in January 2009, is improving in national polling as he seeks reelection in November. Republican Mitt Romney, his likely opponent, has been critical of federal support for wind energy, which he calls one of the most “ballyhooed” forms of alternative fuel.

Developers have been calling on Obama through DOI to expedite the permitting process for offshore wind even as Congress delays action on tax credits that could help support it and expire on 31 December.

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