US to hold major offshore auction

The US Interior Department (DOI) announced it will hold a competitive lease auction before year-end for commercial wind energy development in Atlantic Ocean federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts.

DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will sell four leases in the proposed 3,006.7sq km area on the outer continental shelf – the largest to be made available for wind development along the US eastern seaboard.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that 10 wind projects of 500MW each could be sited in the area, although this would be influenced by factors such as water depths, which range from 35- to 65-metres.

Wind speeds are fairly uniform at between 9.2- and 9.4-metres per second.

The area’s northern boundary is located 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from Massachusetts and extends 33 nautical miles southward and has an east/west extent of 47 nautical miles.

It contains 117 whole lease blocks as well as 19 partial blocks.

DOI’s Proposed Sale Notice triggers a 60-day public comment period ending on 18 August.

Comments received or postmarked by that date will be made available to the public and considered before the publication of the Final Sale Notice, which will announce the time and date of the lease sales.

"We put in zones that we believe have both high potential and lower conflict," says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"But it's actually going to get down to a specific construction plan on a specific site and an (environmental) analysis to determine what people want to do economically and what that impact is going to be."

The end of the comment period also serves as the deadline for any participating companies to submit their qualification packages. To be eligible to participate in the lease sale, each bidder must have been notified by BOEM that it is legally, technically and financially qualified by the time the Final Sale Notice is published.

BOEM acting director Walter Cruickshank says that 14 companies have expressed interest in developing projects in the area. Electricity generated by future offshore wind farms would be sold into the New England market and possibly elsewhere.

As part of today’s announcement, BOEM published in the Federal Register that it determined that foreseeable significant impacts are expected to occur as a result of issuing wind energy leases.

To date, BOEM has awarded five commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast: two non-competitive leases (Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts and an area off Delaware) and three competitive leases (two offshore Massachusetts-Rhode Island and another offshore Virginia).

The competitive lease sales have generated about $5.4m in high bids for about 277,550 acres in federal waters. BOEM is expected to hold additional competitive auctions for Wind Energy Areas offshore Maryland and New Jersey later this year.