The United States continues to inch toward cashing in on the extensive offshore wind power available off the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration set a date – mark your calendars for July 31 – for a lease auction of 164,750 acres offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This will be the “first-ever competitive lease sale for renewable energy on the Outer Continental Shelf,” the Department of the Interior, under the new secretary Sally Jewell, said in a statement.
The areas that Interior is offering up form two large blobs about nine miles off the Rhode Island coastline, and thus will be auctioned as two leases.
Government scientists say [PDF] the North Lease Area could be yield 1,955 megwatts of generating capacity and the South Lease Area 1,440 MW. That adds up to a good deal of power – enough to keep the eggs cold and the butter hard in more than 1 million homes – but just a small start toward the 54 gigagwatts of offshore wind the DOE says could be deployed before 2030.
The government’s characterization of this as a “first ever” event might confuse readers who recall that Interior last October announced a lease “first,” for an agreement for an area off Delaware, and that earlier the department had issued a lease to Cape Wind for its Nantucket Sound project that the agency also called a “first.”
This succession of firsts highlights both how tangled getting offshore wind going has been in the United States, and the Obama administration’s doggedness in busting through.
The Cape Wind agreement was indeed the first such federal commercial lease granted, but it was issued even as the administration was still working to set up a process for developing potential wind resources. The Delaware deal was the first lease to go out under the administration’s “Smart from the Start” process, but it was unlike the just-announced leases in that there had been no competitive interest in the tract.
Meanwhile, there’s another Atlantic Coast offshore wind project already barreling forward, the 30-megawatt Block Island demonstration project in state waters off Rhode Island. It’s a Deepwater Wind project and the company thinks it could be generating power before the end of 2014 as the first offshore wind farm in the country.
Leading Republicans are cheesed at all this ocean-based wind stuff being pushed by the Obama administration. The idea that the Outer Continental Shelf might be plundered for wind but not oil had prompted howls from Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) last year, and Vitter was none too pleased to hear about the upcoming lease sales.
“The administration has a habit of picking energy industry winners and losers. While they do everything they can to advantage renewable energy production, they ignore the benefits that traditional energy provides. Since November, we’ve been asking them to explain the economics behind their plans for offshore lease sales for wind, but they have failed to answer our letter,” Vitter said in a statement released on Tuesday.