US auctions NJ offshore wind sites

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The U.S. Department of the Interior has auctioned the rights to lease nearly 344,000 acres offshore New Jersey for potential offshore wind energy development. 

Under federal law, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for leasing marine sites on the Outer Continental Shelf for energy development.  In addition to BOEM's oil and gas site leasing programs, the agency also operates renewable energy programs focused primarily on offshore wind and hydrokinetic resources (waves and currents).  Prior to yesterday's lease sale, BOEM had awarded nine commercial offshore wind leases offshore Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

In September, BOEM announced that it would auction off the rights to two designated Wind Energy Areas offshore New Jersey.  That auction was held yesterday.  According to BOEM, the provisional winner of lease area OCS-A 0498 (160,480 acres) was RES America Developments Inc., with a bid of $880,715.  US Wind Inc. provisionally won site OCS-A 0499 (183,353 acres), with a bid of $1,006,240. Fishermen’s Energy LLC also reportedly participated in the lease sale but did not win either parcel.

Generally centered offshore of Atlantic City, the New Jersey Wind Energy Area starts about 7 nautical miles offshore and runs about 21 nautical miles seaward.  The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that full development of the area could support about 3,400 megawatts of wind generation.

Since the Obama administration's early "Smart from the Start" program, BOEM has engaged in efforts to spur offshore wind development.  President Obama's June 2013 Climate Change Action Plan features offshore wind as a tool to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from domestic industry.

This emphasis on the linkage between offshore wind and action on climate change is increasingly clear in the administration's messaging.  Early press releases on BOEM's offshore wind programs emphasized "the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand domestic energy production."  By July 31, 2013, in announcing the first ever competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters, BOEM described "President Obama's comprehensive plan to move our economy toward domestic clean energy sources and cut carbon pollution."  Just two months later in September 2013, after the release of the Climate Action Plan, BOEM began using the phrase "President Obama's Climate Action Plan to create American jobs, develop domestic clean energy sources and cut carbon pollution."  BOEM continues to use this phrase in touting its offshore wind program's consistency with the Climate Action Plan, as recently as yesterday's press release about the New Jersey lease sale.

Perhaps more tellingly, the Department of Interior press release announcing yesterday's New Jersey sale references "COP21", the upcoming 2015 Paris Climate Conference, in its brief summary.  This reference to the Paris climate convention is not otherwise explained in the text of the press release.  Nevertheless its inclusion here highlights the interplay between domestic and international energy policy, as well as the potential role U.S. offshore wind might play in addressing climate change.

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