US evaluates South Carolina offshore wind interest

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has taken action that could ultimately lead to it leasing sites off South Carolina for offshore wind development.

Offshore wind is an abundant renewable resource.  If it can be captured, it could be used to produce electricity without many of the impacts of traditional power plant construction and operation.  To date, no commercial offshore wind project is operating in U.S. waters, though globally over 11,800 megawatts of offshore wind capacity is expected by year's end.

President Obama has included development of U.S. offshore wind resources in his Climate Action Plan. Under federal law, the Department of Interior controls most energy and development activities over the Outer Continental Shelf.  Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM has responsibility for evaluating interest in leasing and developing sites.

To date BOEM has awarded nine commercial wind energy leases in federal waters off the Atlantic coast.  The New Jersey offshore wind auction held on Nov. 9, 2015 yielded two more lease awards that are now pending Department of Justice and BOEM review.  Including these, competitive lease sales have generated more than $15.7 million in revenue for over one million acres in federal waters.

Under BOEM's process, leasing efforts typically begin with consultation with state stakeholders and task forces.  In South Carolina's case, BOEM held at least four task force meetings between 2012 and the present.  That stakeholder engagement occurred primarily through the South Carolina Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, composed of federal, state, local, and tribal government representatives.

Following stakeholder process, a preliminary formal step is BOEM's issuance of a Call for Information and Nominations.  The Call document is designed to evaluate industry interest in acquiring commercial wind leases in one or more defined Call Areas, and to solicit feedback about site conditions, resources and other uses in and near those areas. 

For South Carolina, BOEM issued its Call for Information and Nominations on November 23, 2015.  After consultation with the South Carolina Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, BOEM identified four areas in federal waters offshore South Carolina where commercial wind energy leasing could take place.  These so-called “Call Areas” are named Grand Strand, Cape Romain, Winyah and Charleston, and total about 1,167 square nautical miles.

BOEM also published in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA), a review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  The EA will consider potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with issuing commercial wind leases and approving site assessment activities on the lease areas.  To inform its analysis, BOEM issued the Notice of Intent to seek public comment for determining significant issues and alternatives to be analyzed in the EA.

While the ultimate outcome of BOEM's South Carolina offshore wind site leasing efforts remains to be seen, the publication in the Federal Register of the Call and Notice of Intent on November 25, 2015, represents the passing of key milestones along the path.

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