NEW BEDFORD – The federal government is preparing for another auction of a wind energy area off the Massachusetts coast. But this time, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management will take into account how a potential developer might work with local communities.
The auction procedure tentatively set up by BOEM in a draft document allows the bureau to consider whether potential developers have entered into any “community benefit agreements.” According to BOEM, the agreements would be legal contracts between an offshore wind developer and community organization agreeing that the organization would support offshore wind development in return for the developer providing some community benefits.
Such agreements will be included for the first time by BOEM in the wind energy lease auction for an area located 15 miles south of Nantucket. Developers with agreements will be given a 5 percent credit toward their bid. That number is subject to change when BOEM finalizes its procedure for this auction.
Speaking at a meeting with potential developers in New Bedford Tuesday, BOEM Project Manager Jessica Stromberg said the bureau does not yet know what forms these agreements could take, leaving it up to the developers and individual communities to decide.
New Bedford Wind Energy Center Director Matthew Morrissey said he would like to see a Community Benefit Agreement between developers and the city, with developers agreeing to use South Terminal for their staging and to employ certain percentages of local residents or minorities.
But, he said, the city has been in talks with many developers, including Deepwater Wind and Cape Wind, for years about how they would use South Terminal and local workers.
“Whether or not these conversations are in a specific auction document is less relevant than the fact they have been happening,” Morrissey said. “That being said, any tool we can use to continue these conversations and reflects the importance of local job creation is a good thing.”
The Massachusetts energy area auction, which could be held as early as November, will be the only one to take into account community benefit agreements.
BOEM Project Manager Maureen Bornholdt said the bureau decided to include them in this auction because Massachusetts municipalities have been asking for community consideration since 2009.
“They asked us what we could do for the benefit of the community,” she said. “Obviously all states are interested in developing infrastructure for offshore wind, but Massachusetts is the only one who asked that community benefit be counted.”
Last year, when BOEM auctioned a wind energy area located between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, community benefit agreements were not considered. Instead, the federal bureau considered whether developers had “joint development agreements” with either state. In that auction, the lease area had been divided into two sections, but Rhode Island-based developer Deepwater Wind won both with a total bid of $3.8 million. Deepwater Wind received a 20 percent credit from BOEM as part of that auction for its partnership agreement with Rhode Island.
Other than the inclusion of the community benefit agreement, BOEM’s auction of the Massachusetts energy area is similar to that of last year’s auction. Like the one in 2013, the Massachusetts area auction will also give developers 25 percent credit for any power purchase agreements they have with utilities.
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