The future of several proposed offshore wind projects could be affected by upcoming U.S. Department of Interior hearings on the use of the Outer Continental Shelf.
The Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Alternative Energy Development and Production and Alternate Use of Facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf was released by the Minerals Management Service. For 60 days, the report is open for public comment through e-mail, letters, phone calls and public hearings in cities across the country.
MMS’s EIS report looks specifically at wind, wave and ocean current energy-capture technology projects that would be built on the OCS. MMS and the Department of Interior were granted authority to issue permits for the area in the Environmental Policy Act of 2005. Also taken into account are existing oil and natural-gas platforms in federal waters.
“The draft environmental impact statement is a crucial step in developing the Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program, and public feedback and participation at this stage of the process is vitally important,” said MMS Director Johnnie Burton. “The public has a unique opportunity to influence the creation of new and promising uses of our nation’s considerable ocean resources, through submission of written comments on the draft EIS or live input at upcoming hearings.”
Off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, the OCS extends from 3 miles to 200 miles, and the depth varies from a few meters to thousands of meters. For wind energy specifically, the report suggests that given proper siting techniques, impacts could be minimal.
The report reviewed possible impacts on sediments, navigation, commercial fishing, habitats, marine life, tourism and recreation, and preserved and archaeological sites. In each step from testing to siting to construction, operation and then decommissioning, a number of factors, MMS said in the report, could affect the environment.
Technological testing, MMS said, would not be a substantial phase in the process of building an offshore wind turbine because most of the research and development has been done already in Europe.
Construction of the foundations for the turbines, MMS said, is likely to cause the most disruption, especially in noise impact. During the construction phase, impact could be more major than other phases. However, during operation, when minimal maintenance is required, impact would be “negligible” to minimal.
“I think that their overall characterizations of offshore wind are accurate and consistent with those of European projects in saying that impact would be minimal and there would be considerable environmental and energy benefits,” said Mark Rodgers, communications director of Cape Wind Associates. No further comment could be given, however, on whether the expected final report would have positive bearing on the Cape Wind offshore project.
Recently, Cape Wind received state permits to go ahead with the large offshore project, but work was delayed by MMS.
There are other offshore wind proposals in Texas, New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina. The mid-Atlantic offshore region, it has been suggested in past studies, has the potential to supply a tremendous amount of electricity for the growing demand on the East Coast.
The EIS suggests that by gradually increasing noise areas and avoiding areas of animal migration and travel, offshore wind projects would have minimal adverse effects on the marine environment. Similar findings were reported for wave and ocean current capture technology.
Current and other potential uses for the OCS and surrounding waters include other forms of alternative energy facilities, such as tidal power, hydrogen storage and solar power, vehicle traffic routes, waste disposal, Defense Department, fishing, liquefied natural gas import terminals, mineral extraction and dredging.
MMS will use the research gathered from the hearings and comments to draft a final statement and come up with regulations for granting permits. Once the guidelines are in place, the report suggests siting and permitting will be streamlined and much more affordable, timely and efficient.
By Kristyn Ecochard
UPI Energy Correspondent
10 April 2007
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