U.S. to lease more wind sites in New England
The federal government has announced plans to sell leases for wind energy projects in more than 164,000 acres of ocean between Martha's Vineyard and Block Island in Rhode Island.
The lease sales notice announced Friday kicks off a comment period that ends Feb. 1 and sets the stage for auctions sometime thereafter, according to the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The auctions will occur within 30 days of the publication of a final lease notice following the end of the comment period, said Maureen Bornholdt, renewable energy program manager for the bureau.
Although the exact date for the auctions is undetermined, they will occur in 2013, Bornholdt said.
The leasing area covers 164,750 acres and is split into northern and southern zones. It is capable of supporting projects that could generate between 1,350 and 2,000 megawatts of energy or enough electricity for up to 700,000 homes, according to federal officials.
The area originally included about 256,000 acres, or 400 square miles, when it was opened up in 2011 to gauge interest from offshore wind energy developers.
An east-to-west slice of leasing blocks was later eliminated because of concerns for critical habitats and key fisheries, Bornholdt said.
Developers will pay $3 per acre annually prior to commencing operations, or up to $494,250 a year if the entire area is leased.
Once a developer begins generating electricity, a lease fee based on several factors, including the capacity of the wind energy projects, will be collected, Bornholdt said.
Seven developers have qualified financially and technically to bid in the auctions, she said.
A similar list of offshore wind energy developers interested in leasing blocks being opened south of Martha's Vineyard included a dozen prospective companies or organizations, including Energy Management Inc., the parent company of Cape Wind Associates LLC, which has the first signed commercial lease for an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
The area south of the Vineyard covers nearly 743,000 acres, or 877 square nautical miles, and could be opened for leasing by the end of 2013, according to federal officials.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) still is concerned about the effects on archeological sites, whales and other marine life from offshore wind energy projects in federal waters around the Vineyard, tribal preservation officer Bettina Washington said.
The tribe would have preferred that the projects all be located 21 miles or more out to sea to avoid affecting the tribe's ancestral viewshed, she said.
Despite these concerns, the area southwest of the Vineyard is preferred for wind turbine siting in Nantucket Sound, she said.
"Hopefully through the past, some lessons have been learned (about) how we can better work through some of these issues," she said.