Salazar: ‘Smart from the Start’ to speed offshore wind farms

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 5:00am
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12/4/10 — Last week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the “Smart from the Start” initiative to expedite the siting, leasing and construction of new offshore wind energy projects on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. New leases could be granted as soon as next year.

Paul Rich, chief development officer for Deepwater Wind, welcomed the news.

“We’re very pleased with the announcement and level of understanding of the current permitting situation,” said Rich. He added that it’s a sign that “the country is serious” about pursuing offshore wind.

Already, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement website, two “unsolicited” lease applications have been received for the Area of Mutual Interest (AMI), a 400-square-mile swath of ocean between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick inked an agreement in July to work collaboratively to establish utility scale wind farms in the AMI, the western edge of which lays approximately 15 miles east of Block Island.

One of the applicants is Massachusetts-based Neptune Wind. And, according to an article published this week in the Vineyard Gazette, the other is Deepwater Wind.

In the article, Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Grover Fugate told a Martha’s Vineyard audience that the federal government is reviewing the financials of both applicants. He pointed out that companies could apply for leases at any time in federal waters; the states have no purview.

Deepwater Wind has already received one major state approval from Rhode Island to construct an 8-turbine demonstration project off Block Island in state waters. The approval is currently being challenged in state Supreme Court.

The BOEMRE will convene a joint Massachusetts and Rhode Island Offshore Renewable Energy Task Force meeting on Friday, December 10, 2010 at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Area of Mutual Interest (AMI). Rich said he would would discuss any applications the company has submitted after that meeting.

Salazar’s announcement Tuesday followed close on the heels of the Massachusetts approval of a power contract between Cape Wind and National Grid to purchase electricity at 18.7 cents per-kilowatt-hour, with 3.5 percent annual increases over the 15-year contract. A similar contract between Grid and Deepwater Wind for the Block Island wind farm calls for a maximum price of 24.4 cents-per-kWh in the first year of the 20-year contract, also with 3.5 percent increases.

Salazar’s initiative is aimed at streamlining the permitting process, which up until now had bogged down applicants for the better part of a decade.

“The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape,” said Salazar at last Tuesday’s announcement.

He said the “Smart” initiative “will allow us to identify priority Wind Energy Areas for potential development, improve our coordination with local, state, and federal partners, and accelerate the leasing process.”

According to the Department of Interior announcement, “Smart from the Start” will identify Wind Energy Areas (WEA) — offshore locations that appear most suitable for wind energy development.

The initiative is modeled on efforts to launch large solar energy projects on U.S. public lands in the West.

BOEMRE will work with states to identify WEAs off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the next 60 days.

By January 2011, Requests for Interest and Calls for Information 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, according to the Interior Department. Additional WEAs will be identified in 2011 for areas off New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

In January 2011, BOEMRE will initiate a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with site assessment activities in identified WEAs.

If no significant impacts are identified in WEAs, BOEMRE would offer leases in these areas by the end of 2011 or early 2012. Developers will still need site-specific NEPA review of individual projects.

To address the need for transmission infrastructure to bring offshore power ashore, BOEMRE will move on a parallel track to process applications to build offshore transmission lines.

Spar buoy

Rich reported that the prototype spar-buoy to be placed off the entrance to the Great Salt Pond is likely to arrive soon.

An initial effort to install the buoy — which will collect and verify a wide variety of wind data — was postponed when weather conditions did not cooperate. However, the 110-ton cement anchor is in place on the ocean floor, marked with a buoy.