Unleashing Offshore Wind: US Sets Lease Auctions

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.

offshore wind lease u.s.

The North Lease Area consists of about 97,500 acres and the South Lease Area covers about 67,250 acres. (image via U.S. Department of the Interior)

The move largely follows up on a plan outlined by Jewell’s predecessor, Ken Salazar, last December, except that it leaves out Virginia for now.

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 DOE said nine companies were deemed eligible – “legally, technically and financially qualified” – to participate in the late-July auction: Deepwater Wind New England; EDF Renewable Development; Energy Management; Fishermen’s Energy; Iberdrol Renewables; Neptune Wind; Sea Breeze Energy; U.S. Mainstream Renewable Power (Offshore); and US Wind.

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.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Tim Barber

    I can’t believe they are building the Wind Farm right on the winter cod fishing grounds. With all the press recently about Cod fishing stocks in critical condition and NOAA slashing quotas 77% . . . then turn right around and auction off some worlds best cod grounds for building an industrial park. This is so WRONG!!!!

    • Pete Danko

      Tim,

      I confess to not knowing much about the cod fisheries off the coast there. I sure hope they are addressing the factors that have caused such problems. What has caused the devastation?

      Pete

      • Tim Barber

        Hey Pete – You might direct the devastation question towards NMFS (NE region) . . . I can speculate as everyone else does (mismanagement, warmer waters over the last 3 years, seals, etc.) . . . Doesn’t really matter . . . the solution isn’t to build a industrial park or shopping mall over the habitat of a species in a critical state. Making a construction zone and industrial wasteland on the habitat of any endangered species is just plain wrong. I am all for the Wind Farm, but put the turbines on land (Elizabeth Islands, Nomans, etc.)