The 16-day government shutdown delayed the announcement of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s third competitive offshore wind lease sale, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said yesterday.
“Had we not been shut down for two-and-a-half weeks, I would be announcing the next sale date for the Maryland wind energy area,” Jewell said. “I don’t have that firm date for you, but it will be coming up.”
Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association conference in Providence, R.I., Jewell called the shutdown “a bit of a rude awakening” after her tenure in the business sector, most recently as the CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI.
Despite the delay, the secretary told her audience to expect announcements for offshore wind leases in Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts “in the coming months,” with auctions likely to take place next year.
“Everything was slowed down, unfortunately, by the fact that we were shut down and we were not allowed to do work under penalty of criminal liability,” Jewell said. “I didn’t expect the government to be shut down. I didn’t expect to be dealing with the kind of dysfunction that we are dealing with in Congress right now, which is very, very frustrating.”
The announcement would have been for 79,706 acres of ocean area located about 10 nautical miles from Ocean City, Md. The Interior Department released a finding of no significant impact for the site in the Federal Register in February 2012.
Catherine Bowes, who is a part of the Marylanders for Offshore Wind Power coalition as the director of the National Wildlife Federation’s offshore wind campaign, said she was not necessarily expecting Jewell to give a timeline on the Maryland auction yesterday, although such announcements are common at the AWEA conference.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that they were gearing up to try to do that, but with the shenanigans in D.C., the efforts of the department have sadly been delayed,” Bowes said. “Hopefully, we’ll make up that ground quickly. … It’s good to have the government back online so they can do the important work that needs to be done to move these projects forward.”
Md. poised to welcome offshore wind
On the state level, Bowes said Maryland was in a good position to move forward with offshore wind development. Earlier this year, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) succeeded in passing a bill requiring electricity suppliers to source up to 2.5 percent of their power from offshore wind by 2017. Through the bill, electricity customers in the state will pay an additional $1.50 a month to help subsidize offshore wind developers (Greenwire, April 10).
“The most abundant form of renewable energy that we have with the technology to harness today is offshore wind,” O’Malley said in supporting the legislation earlier this year.
“By advancing this offshore wind project, we have the opportunity to prevent as much as 7.5 million tons of climate-change-causing pollution from being pumped into our atmosphere – just through this first phase of 200 megawatts,” O’Malley added.
In her remarks yesterday, Jewell lauded the first two offshore wind lease auctions that took place this year, saying wind energy in general “is going to play a major part” in fulfilling President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which requires Interior to approve an additional 10,000 MW of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.
Deepwater Wind New England LLC was awarded Interior’s first lease in late July, putting down $3.8 million to develop a 1,000 MW wind farm near Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Last month, Dominion Virginia Power won the agency’s second auction, bidding $1.6 million for ocean acreage off Virginia’s coast with the potential to generate up to 2,000 MW (Greenwire, Aug. 1; ClimateWire, Sept. 5).
Although there were worries that the shutdown might also slow development on these projects, Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for Dominion Resources, and Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for Deepwater Wind, both said yesterday that the companies are not facing any significant delays as a result.
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