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U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has completed an important step in identifying a wind energy area (WEA) off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The WEA, which is within an area of mutual interest between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is one of several areas along the Atlantic coast with high wind potential that BOEM is evaluating for commercial wind leasing.

The WEA comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by Rhode Island and Massachusetts in a memorandum of understanding signed between the two states in 2010. Based on an extensive consultation process, BOEM narrowed the focus of the WEA by excluding commercially important fishing grounds from the area, BOEM explains.

Other key considerations that will be further analyzed in the environmental assessment include vessel traffic, visual and cultural resources, and the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

“BOEM identified this wind energy area following extensive collaboration with Rhode Island, Massachusetts and a diverse set of stakeholders, including fishing interests,” notes BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau. “This milestone is ‘Smart from the Start’ because it will help ensure that offshore wind projects are sited in the right places, where the wind energy potential is significant and where environmental effects and potential conflicts with other uses can be minimized and managed.”

Industry reaction to BOEM’s announcement has been positive.

“We are one step closer to making a regional utility-scale offshore wind farm a reality, serving Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Long Island, N.Y.,” William M. Moore, CEO of offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind, said in a statement.

“While we firmly believe that offshore wind and commercial fishing can co-exist and thrive in our ocean waters, we agree that the decision to exclude certain areas from offshore wind development is a positive step to advance the leasing and permitting processes,” he added. “Developing new renewable energy sources can benefit the vital ecosystems that support the fishing industry by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants from fossil-fuel-burning plants.”

Before any leases are offered, BOEM will complete an environmental assessment to determine the impacts associated with issuing leases in the wind energy area. In addition, BOEM will conduct a comprehensive, site-specific National Environmental Policy Act review, including opportunities for public comment, for the construction of any proposed wind power facility.

Additional information on the WEA, including a map of the area, is available here.


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