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Key Environmental Review Launched for Offshore Wind Area

Thursday, July 05, 2012

 

Rhode Island has taken another step toward developing commercial wind energy programs in federal waters through a program known as the “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) this week officially began an environmental review to determine if there are significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with issuing wind energy leases in Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ shared “Wind Energy Area.”

Other key considerations that will be analyzed in the process include the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, fisheries, vessel traffic, and visual and cultural resources, including Native American tribal areas. Senator Jack Reed suggested offshore wind development will create jobs in the Ocean State.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in advancing offshore wind development in the Ocean State,” he said Monday. “It is important that we develop our coastal resources in a thoughtful and inclusive manner as we strive to make Rhode Island a national leader in offshore wind development, and help bring assembly and manufacturing jobs to the state.”

The environmental assessment for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area will be used by BOEM to inform future leasing decisions, the department said. The Wind Energy Area (WEA) comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by the two states.

As part of the competitive leasing process, Senator Reed brought Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to Rhode Island to see firsthand the work the state is doing as it seeks commercial leases for wind projects. Rhode Island developed the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), a detailed coastal resource management plan, which took a comprehensive look at Rhode Island’s ocean resources with consideration for the complexities of fisheries, our state’s cultural heritage, our recreation needs, and the potential for renewable energy development.

“This environmental assessment is the first of its kind in the northeast and is based on thorough scientific and technical analysis and substantial stakeholder input to identify the most suitable location for commercial wind energy activities in this area offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” said BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau. “We will continue to seek public participation in our process, including comments on this environmental assessment as we move forward with an innovative, targeted leasing approach to offshore wind.”

Reed and Whitehouse say they have worked to ensure that future offshore wind turbines are appropriately sited in areas of greatest energy potential and with minimal impact to the environment, fisherman, and boaters. In February, BOEM officials announced that a critical fishing area, known as Cox’s Ledge, would be removed from consideration for development.

Following the environmental review, if there is a finding of no significant impact to issue a lease, BOEM will conduct an auction for the lease sale, followed by a comprehensive site-specific National Environmental Policy Act review, including opportunities for public comment, for the construction of any proposed wind power facility.

On Monday, Governor Chafee said the state is committed to leading the country in offshore wind development.
“This announcement further demonstrates Rhode Island’s commitment to being a national leader in offshore wind development,” Governor Lincoln Chafee said. “The Environmental Assessment will be a critical component in continuing to move our state to the forefront of offshore wind energy.”

 

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