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The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) launched a wind energy initiative to facilitate siting, leasing and construction for offshore wind projects on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The DOI is hoping its process results in leases for offshore wind projects issued within two years, instead of the current approval process that can take as long as seven years.

The length of time required to issue a lease came under great scrutiny when it was revealed that Cape Wind endured a near decade-long fight before it obtained the first lease for commercial wind energy development on the OCS.

The DOI says it will identify wind energy areas (WEAs), which it says are offshore locations that appear most suitable for wind energy development. Data would continue to be collected for high priority areas to inform government and industry assessments and planning, allowing a more efficient process for permitting and siting.

The initiative, known as "Smart from the Start", is largely modeled on similar efforts that helped launch major solar energy projects on U.S. public lands in the West, according to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Under the program, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) will work with state partners to identify WEAs off the coasts of a number of Atlantic states, including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the next 60 days.
By Jan. 2011, requests for interest 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.

Also in January, BOEMRE will initiate a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with site-assessment activities in identified WEAs. In addition, there will be 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 or in early 2012. Developers will still need appropriate and comprehensive site-specific NEPA review of individual projects. BOEMRE will work directly with project proponents to ensure that those reviews take place on aggressive schedules with frequent interagency communications and dedicated staff.

To address the need for transmission infrastructure to bring this offshore power ashore, the DOI says the BOEMRE will move forward, on a parallel track, to process applications to build offshore transmission lines. The identification of WEAs should assist the siting and feasibility reviews associated with potential offshore transmission lines.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior


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