We’re hopeful that … our commitment will mean something.’
AN INTERIOR DEPARTMENT assessment of the suitability of ocean waters between Block Island (seen above) and Martha's Vineyard for the development of wind energy has been made available for public comment. After the commenting period, the department will be ready to solicit bids for leases to build wind energy farms on a large scale.
The spinning blades of wind farms off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts came one step closer to reality July 2, when the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed its preliminary environmental assessment of a loosely designated area for potential wind-farm development, located in federal waters about 18 miles southeast of Block Island.
The so-called Area of Mutual Interest is the possible home of Providence-based Deepwater Wind’s proposed 1,000 MW wind farm. But there is no guarantee Deepwater will be named as the company to construct a wind farm on the site.
BOEM still must determine if a Finding of No Significant Impact is appropriate or if more investigation is warranted. If the assessment is finalized after a 30-day public-comment period, the bureau can award a lease for the area.
“There will be a lease sale, an auction,” said bureau Director Tommy Beaudreau at a public-information session held in Narragansett on July 16. “After that it’s still a long process of environmental study, evaluating the potential impacts on the environment, marine life and other interests, as well as trying to develop a construction and operation plan that, if constructed, would produce significant energy.”
The federal process is a four-stage approval: planning and analysis; lease issuance, site-assessment plan approval; and approval of construction and operation.
The current first stage identifies areas to be considered for wind-energy-project leases. Once the first phase is complete, the area will be subject to an auction, where companies will compete for leases granting them permission to evaluate the underwater characteristics and submit a plan for construction.
Beaudreau estimated an advertisement for the lease sale could be published as early as September. The lease sale, or auction, will require a minimum bid that has yet to be identified. “Other considerations include the factoring in of financing, the relationship of the bidder with the state and power-purchase agreements,” Beaudreau said.
The lease will permit the collection of data at the project site that is necessary for submitting permit applications to construct a wind farm. Then, those permit applications will be subject to another round of environmental assessment and public comment.