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The Department of the Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold the first-ever competitive lease sale for renewable energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The auction, scheduled to take place on July 31, will offer 164,750 acres offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts for commercial wind energy leasing.

The wind energy area (WEA) is located 9.2 nautical miles south of the Rhode Island coastline. BOEM will auction the area as two leases, referred to as the North Lease Area and the South Lease Area. The North Lease Area consists of about 97,500 acres and the South Lease Area covers about 67,250 acres, notes BOEM.

Additionally, BOEM has determined that nine offshore wind developers are legally, technically and financially qualified to participate in the upcoming lease sale. They include the following:
  • Deepwater Wind New England LLC;
  • EDF Renewable Development;
  • Energy Management Inc.;
  • Fishermen’s Energy LLC;
  • Iberdrola Renewables;
  • Neptune Wind LLC;
  • Sea Breeze Energy LLC;
  • U.S. Mainstream Renewable Power (Offshore); and
  • US Wind Inc.
According to a report recently released by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the North Lease Area has the potential for installed capacity of 1,955 MW and the South Lease Area 1,440 MW.

Together, these areas could support enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes, a significant increase over what BOEM had originally estimated last year.

According to the DOI, the lease areas will be auctioned simultaneously. Under the procedures, BOEM will consider non-monetary factors, such as if a bidder holds a joint development agreement or power purchase agreement, and monetary factors. The non-monetary phase of the auction will begin on July 29 and the monetary phase on July 31.

BOEM also has made available a revised environmental assessment (EA) for commercial wind lease issuance and related activities within the WEA offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The EA considers reasonable foreseeable environmental and socioeconomic impacts from issuing renewable energy leases and conducting site characterization (e.g., surveys) and assessment (e.g., installation and operation of meteorological towers and buoys) activities in the designated offshore area.

As a result of the analysis in the revised EA, BOEM issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, which concluded that reasonably foreseeable environmental effects associated with the commercial wind lease issuance and related activities would not significantly impact the environment.

The DOI's announcement was lauded by offshore wind advocates.

"The competitive lease sale for two offshore wind farm sites off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts is a vital step forward for the offshore wind industry," says Jim Lanard, president at the Offshore Wind Development Coalition.

"Eligible offshore wind developers will now have the opportunity to compete for the leases, and the auction winners will then propose projects that will provide clean, emission-free energy, create jobs and manufacturing opportunities. The Port of New Bedford in Massachusetts and the Port at Quonset Point in Rhode Island will have the opportunity to serve these and other offshore wind farms, thereby creating significant economic investments in these communities and high-skilled jobs for their residents. This is a great day for our nation’s workforce and for the environment," he adds.

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