North Carolina offshore wind advances

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Federal efforts to lease ocean sites off the North Carolina coast for offshore wind development advanced last week, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a report finding that there would be no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts from issuing wind energy leases in three specific areas.  The determination brings BOEM one step closer to auctioning off leasing rights off North Carolina for offshore wind development.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  BOEM performs key duties under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, including resource evaluation, planning, and site leasing.  In furtherance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, BOEM has auctioned off the rights to lease sites in federal waters for offshore wind development off states including Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, and Rhode Island.  Altogether, BOEM has awarded nine commercial wind leases.  Seven of these were awarded through its competitive lease sale process, generating over $14.5 million in high bids for over 700,000 acres in federal waters. 

Federal law prescribes the process BOEM must undertake to lease sites for offshore wind development.  Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), BOEM must evaluate the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of proposed actions.

For the proposed leasing off North Carolina, in January 2015 BOEM published its Environmental Assessment (EA) of the impacts of granting commercial wind leases and allowing of site characterization and assessment activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.  On September 17, BOEM issued a revised Environmental Assessment.  That EA found there would be no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts from issuing wind energy leases and allowing site characterization activities.  This "Finding of No Significant Impact", or FONSI, enables BOEM to proceed to the next step in the leasing process.

That next step will occur in October, when BOEM will convene a public meeting of the North Carolina Renewable Energy Task Force.  After considering the input from the Task Force, BOEM will publish a “Proposed Sale Notice” in the Federal Register, which will include a 60-day public comment period. That notice would be followed by a lease auction, likely similar to those held for sites off other states.

In addition to its proposed North Carolina activity, BOEM expects to hold a competitive lease sale for sites offshore New Jersey later this year.

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