Virginia offshore wind site leases to be auctioned

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Next month the United States will auction off the rights to develop offshore wind energy projects off the Virginia coast.  The Virginia auction's results will shape the development of offshore wind in North America, as it will represent the nation's second competitive lease auction for commercial offshore wind projects.

As part of the Obama administration's efforts to promote the use of federal lands for the generation of renewable electricity, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding a series of auctions of the rights to lease sites in federal waters over the outer continental shelf.  On July 31, BOEM held an auction for sites off Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  In that auction, Deepwater Wind New England, LLC submitted the winning bid of about $3.8 million for the rights to lease two parcels covering 164,750 acres offshore New England.

BOEM will hold its second competitive lease auction on September 4 for sites off Virginia.  The Virginia auction will be for a single lease for a designated wind energy area covering about 112,799 acres.  The western edge of the lease area is located about 23.5 nautical miles off the Virginia Beach coastline.  If fully developed, BOEM expects the Virginia lease area to support more than 2,000 megawatts of wind generation.

The Virginia Wind Energy Area is outlined in blue in this map provided by BOEM.

BOEM's current offshore wind leasing program - known as "Smart from the Start" - features a process reliant on multiple rounds of proposals and calls for public feedback.  For Virginia waters, that process began in February 2012 when BOEM published a Call for Information and Nominations in the Federal Register.  The Call was designed to evaluate competitive interest for the area, as well as to seek public feedback on existing uses and other considerations relevant to leasing the sea space.  Simultaneously, BOEM published a Notice of Availability for the final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant for commercial wind lease issuance and site assessment activities on the Atlantic outer continental shelf offshore New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

BOEM received eight nominations of interest in the lease area in response to the Call.  The eight companies responding with interest were:

  • Apex Virginia Offshore Wind, LLC
  • Arcadia Offshore Virginia, LLC
  • Cirrus Wind Energy, Inc.
  • Dominion Virginia Power
  • enXco Development Corporation
  • Fisherman’s Energy, LLC
  • Iberdrola Renewables Inc.
  • Orisol Energy US, Inc.

As with the recent auction for sites off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, some of these companies may not choose to participate in the auction.  While BOEM had found nine companies to be legally, technically, and financially qualified to participate in the New England auction, only three actually submitted bids.  For example, Fisherman's Energy and Iberdrola Renewables both qualified for the New England auction, but did not bid.

Assuming interest remains in the Virginia sites, the September auction is expected to yield a single winner.  That winning bidder will pay the amount specified in the final bid for the right to lease part or all of the Virginia wind energy area.  Development of an offshore wind project would then require a series of additional steps, ranging from financing to permitting to interconnection with the mainland grid.  Whether the auction actually leads to offshore wind development off Virginia will thus depend on a number of factors, but the September auction will represent an important step toward the development of the United States' offshore wind resources.

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