In a proactive step, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has published a first-of-its-kind environmental assessment for a wind-energy leasing area off the shore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
BOEM officials developed an assessment of the more than 164,000-acre area in consultation with federal and state agencies and federally recognized tribes. It also included information gathered during public information meetings, according to a statement from U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar’s office.
“Our expectation is that we will have accomplished putting the root down in energy history in America,” Salazar said in a Monday afternoon conference call with reporters.
The assessment is part of the administration’s “Smart from the Start” initiative, an attempt to streamline the regulatory path for wind energy projects. By doing an environmental assessment on the entire area, the agency hopes to avoid some issues in individual lease areas.
The 379-page environmental assessment looks at the environmental and socioeconomic effects wind projects would present to the area. The report details predicted effects on everything from air quality to fish habitats to recreational uses and tourism.
According to the report, its purpose is to determine which blocks would be appropriate to lease and whether an environmental impact statement would be necessary before issuing a lease.
BOEM worked with representatives of environmental and commercial fishing interests as well as representatives from Rhode Island and Massachusetts in mapping out the area, said Tommy Beaudreau, the bureau’s director. In February, the bureau excluded nearly 100,000 acres of water heavily used for commercial fishing, Beaudreau said.
BOEM officials will accept critiques on the assessment’s adequacy during the 30-day public comment period, which lasts until Aug. 2. After considering responses gathered at public meetings to be held on July 16 and 17, as well as written submissions, officials may either further analyze and revise their environmental assessment or issue a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” a statement from Salazar’s office said.
If BOEM’s assessment finds no significant environmental impact, officials could draft a proposed lease sale notice and an intergovernmental task force could possibly approve it as a final sale notice.
Proposals from the eight companies that expressed interest in projects within the wind energy area or other companies would undergo additional environmental assessments before any projects move forward, Salazar’s office said.
The eight current proposals range from 350 megawatts to 2,000 megawatts, according to the report. The report also says BOEM has not yet determined the auction format or the number of blocks that might be leased.
Salazar characterized the assessment as an indication of President Barack Obama’s commitment to pursuing alternative energy resources.
“When President Obama took office … he made it clear to me we would make renewable energy a priority,” Salazar said.
To read the environmental assessment go to http://tinyurl.com/7swbw3d. Public information and comments sessions will be held:
7 p.m. July 16: University of Rhode Island, 218 South Ferry Road, Narragansett, R.I.
7 p.m. July 17: Fairfield Inn & Suites, 185 MacArthur Drive, New Bedford
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