Yesterday was a banner day for offshore wind farms in the mid-Atlantic. Promoters and advocates received a favorable environmental assessment, a new form and two calls for nominations.
The Environmental Assessment. Secretary Ken Salazar of the Department of the Interior gave wind developers a big boost when he announced the Department's decision to move forward with government leases of offshore areas for wind farms. This comes at a crucial time for wind turbine manufacturers; Danish turbine giant Vestas A/S announced last month that it would be closing one factory, laying off ten percent of its work force in light of the recession and increased competition from China, and considering additional layoffs in the United States.
The Department's finding of "no significant impact" from activities related to site assessment such as geotechnical surveys or the installation of meteorological towers opens the door to the gathering of data without completion of a further environmental impact statement. Completion of the environmental assessment is not a green light for all projects, but it is estimated that it will take two years off the planning and construction schedule. Specific projects still will need to complete an environmental impact statement. One issue, for example, may be birds. The red knot, an intercontinental migrating species of sandpiper, flies almost twenty thousand miles each year from Brazil to Canada and back, stopping off for saltwater taffy along the Delaware Bay. Birdkill is a substantial problem for wind farm operators. Efforts to put the red knot on the federal endangered species list will only make solving that problem harder.
New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia are all excited about the potential opportunities. Governor McDonnell (a Virginia Republican) wants to make Virginia the Energy Capital of the East Coast. Governor O'Malley (a Maryland Democrat) noted: “We need the energy. We have the resources. We need the jobs, and we need a more renewable and cleaner, greener future for our kids.”
The Lease Form. To streamline the issuance of wind farm leases on the Outer Continental Shelf the Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put together a "first-of-its-kind" lease form, BOEM Form 0008. Comments were solicited last fall and they were limited. One that was significant was that lessees should make available data they collect. Certain wind data could be kept as proprietary and confidential. The Form is silent on that subject. Notwithstanding, the wind energy industry is enthusiastic about the Form. Comments by The Offshore Wind Development Coalition felt that with 15 offshore wind projects on the blocks in the U.S., the Form "will provide an essential ingredient for continued progress."
The Calls. The Department of Interior also issued a "Call for Information and Nominations" for almost 80,000 acres approximately 10 miles off Ocean City, Maryland, and for a little more than 110,000 acres 23 miles off Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Calls solicit any additional lease nominations and request public comments about "site conditions, resources and other existing uses of the identified area that would be relevant to BOEM’s potential leasing and development authorization process." An earlier solicitation of interest for Maryland obtained nine "indications of interest" for commercial leases. This interest is local, interstate and international. The achievement of Maryland is the result of sustained effort to get to this point. Since 2009, in a "state interagency marine spatial planning process" the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) worked with "resource experts, user groups, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Towson University and the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) to compile data and information about habitats, human uses, and resources offshore Maryland."
Offshore wind farms are coming. "Blow the man down" is a 19th Century sea shanty chronicling the rough life of a mate aboard sailing packets plying the North Atlantic. It may be time to update the reference.