Federal regulation of offshore wind development took another step forward with the release this week of a draft environmental assessment. The public is now being asked for input in a program that could open up areas off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

The EA is a piece of the Interior Department’s “Smart from the Start” initiative for Atlantic offshore wind development. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) said comments are being solicited to consider potential environmental and socioeconomic effects of issuing renewable energy leases in designated Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) offshore New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

“America’s offshore wind resources offer great potential for helping power the Eastern seaboard and spurring new jobs and innovation,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “The ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative will help companies identify areas offshore that are best suited for wind development, while also reducing the potential for costly delays and red tape. With today’s announcement, we are taking another step toward ensuring that renewable development along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) becomes a reality.”

The draft EA also considers potential environmental impacts associated with site assessment activities such as the installation and operation of meteorological towers and buoys on leases that may be issued in these areas.

According to BOEMRE’s Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Forces, wind energy areas have been identified off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. In square nautical miles, the areas measure: New Jersey, 418; Delaware, 122; Maryland, 94; and Virginia, 164.

This draft EA is part of the “Smart from the Start” initiative being led by Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes and Director Bromwich to facilitate efficient and environmentally-responsible development of renewable energy resources on the Atlantic OCS. The initiative includes the identification of areas on the OCS that appear to be suitable for renewable energy development where BOEMRE will focus its leasing efforts. Any leases ultimately issued will not authorize construction or operations; instead, specific proposed projects will be the subject of subsequent environmental review and analysis with additional opportunities for public comment.

An EA is not as stringent or time-consuming as other site evaluations. BOEMRE says the comments will assist in determining if an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needs to be prepared, or whether a Finding of No Significant Impact is warranted in connection with issuing renewable energy leases on the OCS offshore the mid-Atlantic states.

A recent study just released extols the potential of offshore wind energy with a potential for 127 gigawatts, at a reasonable costs and with significant economic development. The potential using very conservative methods, to show that offshore wind on the Atlantic coast could provide much greater energy potential than offshore oil and gas combined.

The days to determine if this can become reality are drawing closer.

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