Offshore Wind Energy Projects Set to Move Forward

Recently, the push to develop offshore wind energy resources along the Mid-Atlantic coast has gained momentum, and is certain to intensify the debate between the Obama Administration and some environmental organizations over wind energy. Although the wind resources from Maine down the Atlantic coast are among the most productive in the world, the United States lags behind the rest of the world in developing offshore wind resources, with zero offshore wind projects currently in operation in comparison to 53 operating offshore wind projects in Europe.  This is partly due to the fact that it currently takes 7-9 years to get project approval for an offshore wind project as compared with 2-3 years for a fossil-fuel fired plant.

Last month, the Department of the Interior (DOI), along with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), announced that it was moving forward with plans to streamline the current process in order to take advantage of wind resources through its “Smart from the Start” initiative. Under the plan, DOI conducted extensive data analysis to identify “Wind Energy Areas” where there would be the least amount of conflict in terms of developing offshore wind farms. BOEM’s NEPA assessment found that there would be no significant environmental and socio-economic impacts from issuing wind energy leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas off the mid-Atlantic Coast. The Bureau also developed a first-of-its-kind lease form that will help streamline the leasing process. On Monday, Dominion Virginia Power, Virginia’s largest electric provider, filed comments with BOEM formally expressing interest in leasing 113,000 acres off the Virginia coast in order to develop wind energy.

While some environmental organizations support the development of offshore wind projects, other groups are concerned about the impacts the wind turbines will likely have on migratory birds, as well as marine mammals and fish. In December, a D.C. public interest law firm specializing in environmental and wildlife law, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, filed a rulemaking petition to the Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) alleging that wind energy projects are likely to violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and requesting that the FWS promulgate regulations under the Act. ABC estimates that by 2030, there will be more than 100,000 wind turbines in the U.S., which are expected to kill at least one million birds a year. As the debate over the relative merits and harms of offshore wind continues, it is clear that the Administration has taken an aggressive position in facilitating action on wind energy projects.

Written by Ingrid Seggerman, GIELR staff