Offshore Wind Projects in New Jersey: Full Breeze Ahead!
..and Offshore Energy: 101
Recently, the federal government announced plans to lease 418 square nautical miles (over 354,000 acres) of New Jersey’s oceans for offshore wind energy facilities, and there was significant interest from the wind industry for those sites. All told, 11 companies expressed official interest in bidding for the opportunity to build offshore wind turbines in New Jersey’s federal waters. The proposed projects range from 300 megawatts (MW) to 3,000 MW.
If the entire 418 square nautical mile area is developed, the federal government estimates that up to 7 companies would be given the opportunity to build wind facilities in New Jersey, and the Governor of the State anticipates that this would bring new opportunities to over 500 businesses in the state. Read the Governor’s Press Statement on the Proposals Here
This process got underway in February when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced that it was going to move forward in developing Mid-Atlantic Ocean “Wind Energy Areas” in New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Clean Ocean Action (COA), and others, submitted comments on this plan and has been involved in the preliminary federal, state, and local discussions on offshore wind for a while. Last week, in mid-July, BOEMRE issued a notice that they were proceeding with an “Environmental Assessment” for the area and hoped to finalize plans for wind facility installations as quickly as possible.
Understandably, the ins and outs of federal ocean energy resources are complicated issues. Briefly, here’s the situation:
- While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the “oceans” agency, it is only truly concerned with managing fisheries, handling the weather and ocean-borne-commerce, and studying and protecting marine biodiversity
- The Department of Interior, an agency best known for its sub-agencies that run public lands like parks and forests, contains the “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement” – or BOEMRE. This agency used to be called the “Minerals Management Service” before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster (that spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico – a spill that is still being cleaned up today)
- BOEMRE is in charge of, under the Energy Policy Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act with issuing leases for oil, gas, and renewable energy activities on the “Outer Continental Shelf”
o “Outer Continental Shelf” – the area of land that is at least 3 nautical miles out to sea, and extending, in most cases, to 200 nautical miles out to sea. This is the US’s federal ocean waters.
o “Leasing” – because the ocean is federal property, the US government doesn’t sell it to companies like BP or Exxon to develop for oil or other energy - it leases ocean areas to them. Generally, leases are for short durations (5 years). The Energy Policy Act of 2005 broadened this authority to include leases for renewables like wind.
- The process that goes into approving leases generally follow a multi-stage plan: first the agency looks to see where leases should be, then they ask for interest and do environmental reviews, then finally, the agency holds a lease sale.
o “Environmental Reviews” – under the National Environmental Policy Act, agencies must look at environmental impacts from major federal actions (like leasing ocean areas) in order to be as informed as possible when making a decision.
o “Lease Sale” – is where competitive bidding occurs if there are many interested parties in a certain ocean area. Sometimes, money is collected in the “sale” which can go to the state bordering the leased area or the federal government.
Here in New Jersey, BOEMRE is conducting its environmental review of the offshore Wind Energy Area. The agency recently released an “Environmental Assessment” and hopes to avoid developing an “Environmental Impact Statement” – which could take many more years to complete. Read the entire assessment (which includes a discussion of the impacts to other states besides New Jersey) HERE.
Clean Ocean Action is staying on top of the environmental assessment process, and will also continue to review the baseline data underlying the government’s decisions to put the largest open-bidding wind area in the nation squarely off the coast of New Jersey. Check back here on the COA blog for updates on offshore wind development and other ocean energy issues!