U.S. Interior Department Launches ‘Smart from the Start’ to Speed Offshore Wind Development

11/24/2010
SustainableBusiness.com News

The Dept of Interior (DOI) launched an initiative to speed  development of wind farms off the eastern coast of the U.S.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative to facilitate siting, leasing and construction of new projects.

The accelerated process will enable leases to be issued in 2011 and 2012, DOI said in a release.

“We need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape,” Salazar said.

“Our ‘Smart from the Start’ Initiative for Atlantic wind 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,” he added noted.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is proposing a revision to its regulations that will simplify the leasing process for offshore wind in situations where there is only one qualified and interested developer. The revision eliminates a redundant and therefore unnecessary step, and will potentially save up to 6-12 months in the leasing process.

Wind Energy Areas (WEA) are offshore locations that appear most suitable for wind energy development. Data would continue to be collected for these high priority areas to inform government and industry assessments and planning, allowing a more efficient process for permitting and siting responsible development.

Key aspects of the Atlantic Wind ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative are modeled on efforts that are helping to launch major solar energy projects on U.S. public lands in the West, including a ‘Smart from the Start’ approach that designated solar energy study areas, conducted early environmental reviews, and is coordinating state and federal permitting processes for large-scale solar projects.

Interior officials have been working with their Atlantic state partners to identify WEAs. The state-federal task forces set up in eight of these states are identifying areas with generally bountiful wind energy and relatively fewer potential environmental and use conflicts than other offshore areas. DOI also established the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium with 11 coastal state governors earlier this year.

Under the ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative, 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 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. These states expect to see big gains in wind jobs with the development of offshore projects.

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.

BOEMRE will assist in developing site assessment data and evaluating potential WEA leasing. In January 2011, BOEMRE will initiate a 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/early 2012. Developers will still need appropriate and comprehensive site-specific NEPA review of individual projects. BOEMRE said it 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, BOEMRE will move forward aggressively, on a parallel track, to process applications to build offshore transmission lines.

Website: www.boemre.gov/offshore/RenewableEnergy/index.htm