The U.S. Department of Interior plans this summer to start formally seeking developers for wind farms situated in federal waters off Rhode Island.
At a presentation at the University of Rhode Island last week, officials from the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement sketched out the process for leasing federal waters for wind farms. The bureau already knows that two companies have expressed informal interest in placing wind farms roughly halfway between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
Last year, Providence-based Deepwater Wind proposed a farm with 200 turbines, separate from a smaller farm it wants off Block Island in state waters. Massachusetts-based Neptune Wind also expressed interest in leasing some of the same federal waters, although the company has not publicly detailed its proposal.
Before requests can proceed, the bureau must finalize the solicitation request and the area up for potential development, said Maureen Bornholdt, a program manager at the bureau’s office of offshore alternative energy programs.
Currently, the bureau is considering offering the opportunity for leases in a roughly 300-square-mile area loosely based on an area identified by Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials as ripe for studying development proposals.
Bureau officials tweaked the boundaries and removed a section of water above unexplored military ordnance. Bornholdt expects more tweaks as the agency works with a raft of fellow federal agencies concerned about everything from protecting shipping lanes to preserving military training areas.
Officials also plan to overlay information about key environmental features on the seabed, which could become de facto exclusion areas for wind farm developers, who must pass a litany of environmental regulations before erecting turbines.
Bornholdt said the area is evolving as the bureau works through what is a relatively new process. The U.S. Department of the Interior received authority in 2005 to serve as the leasing agent for offshore wind farms. Officials did not finalize regulations until 2009. And so far, the agency has granted just one lease. The 28-year lease went to Cape Wind Associates, which plans to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
For waters off Rhode Island, a final request for projects is expected this summer. Once the bureau receives proposals, it will open a 45-day public comment period. There is no timeframe on how long agency officials will spend reviewing the comments before rendering a decision.