U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that the federal government has opened up an area off Massachusetts and Rhode Island to gauge interest from wind energy developers.
“By focusing on priority areas with high wind potential and fewer conflicts and conducting early, coordinated reviews, we can accelerate the leasing process and drive investment, development and jobs to Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” Salazar said.
The two states agreed in 2010 to collaborate on offshore wind energy projects in 400 square miles of federal water southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.
Rhode Island’s Special Area Management Plan will control the planning process in the “area of mutual interest” that covers 45 federal outer continental shelf leasing blocks, according to the agreement.
Projects in the area require approval by governors of both states, and economic benefits from the projects would be shared, according to the agreement.
There have already been two unsolicited applications from developers for wind energy projects in the area.
The area opened up by Salazar on Wednesday is part of the larger zone included in the agreement between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It is separate from a 1,300-square-mile planning area south of the Vineyard and Nantucket that is also being considered for wind energy development.
Cape Wind Associates, which is one of 10 companies that has expressed interest in parts of the area south of the islands, will “take a look” at the new area, as well, company spokesman Mark Rodgers said.
Cape Wind’s proposal to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound is not a part of either of the larger leasing areas. Although the company has all of the necessary permits in hand for the project in the Sound, it still faces a raft of legal challenges and has yet to find a buyer for half of the project’s power.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard has many of the same concerns about the area of mutual interest that it expressed in the debate over Cape Wind and in its comments on the wind energy development area south of the islands, tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said.
Although the tribe has participated on a task force regarding the planning area, tribal officials still expect to be consulted separately on a government-to-government basis, she said.
More information is needed on the effects of wind turbines on archaeological sites, the effects on fish habitats and the impact on tribal fishermen who use the area, according to Washington.
“It’s interesting, I think, how quickly some things have been happening concerning all this, and we don’t have all the answers,” she said.
The tribe continues to have concerns about the visual impact of any large turbines as seen from Aquinnah, including at night, she said, adding that the tribe has consistently recommended that turbines be located at least 21 miles offshore.
The closest turbines in the area of mutual interest could be about 12 miles off the Vineyard.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – a division of the Interior Department – is seeking public comment as it prepares an environmental analysis of the impact of wind energy projects in the area.
The comment period ends Oct. 3.
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