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Interior moves to lease North Carolina waters

The Interior Department announced today that it completed its environmental review of plans to lease up to 308,000 acres of federal waters off North Carolina for commercial wind farm development.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a revised environmental assessment that concluded the leasing plan would have no significant impacts on the ocean or its users.

The agency will next decide whether to issue one or more commercial leases within three wind energy areas including a 122,000-acre site about 28 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk and two additional areas of 52,000 acres and 134,000 acres beginning about 12 miles off Cape Fear.

A map of the sites can be found here.

“After considering public input and conducting a thorough environmental review, we believe that wind leasing and site characterization activities can be done in a manner that will continue to allow for other uses, and be compatible with the environment,” BOEM Director Abigail Hopper said in a statement.

BOEM said it will hold a public meeting Oct. 7 in Wilmington, N.C., to discuss its plans for auctioning the waters. Companies that win leases will have the exclusive right to assess the site’s wind speeds and survey other resources such as the ocean floor. If a wind farm is proposed, a separate National Environmental Policy Act review would need to be completed.

The final wind energy areas (WEAs) have been reduced significantly from areas Interior preliminarily identified in late 2012, in response to concerns from the National Park Service, Coast Guard and coastal residents, including in Kitty Hawk.

North Carolina is the latest of several East Coast states Interior has eyed for commercial wind development.

So far, the Obama administration has awarded seven competitive commercial Atlantic Coast wind energy leases off Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia, raising more than $14 million in high bids for over 700,000 acres of federal waters.

BOEM said it also plans to auction waters offshore New Jersey later this year.

The U.S. offshore wind industry has been slow to get off the ground in large part due to cost barriers and the expiration of tax incentives.

Construction began this summer on the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm in state waters off Rhode Island (Greenwire, July 28). The farm will ultimately have five turbines, which are expected to begin producing energy next year.