A new chapter begins in offshore wind energy and ocean planning

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By Dave Kellam, SeaPlan Communications Manager, dkellam [at] seaplan.org

This week, SeaPlan’s office erupted with activity when the news broke that the first U.S. federal offshore wind energy lease auction was completed. The auction was for the Rhode Island/ Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (WEA) and is one of several auctions scheduled in the coming months on the East Coast. Now that a leasing process has been established, a new chapter in ocean planning can begin — one that can include integrated ocean management principles that are often debated, but too rarely applied.

It has been a long time coming. We remember the calls for better planning more than 10 years ago when the now infamous Cape Wind project was announced. That project turned out to be a catalyst for ocean planning in the U.S., and arguably prodded passage of the Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008, development of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan in 2009, and even the National Ocean Policy.

When we were working with the Commonwealth to help develop and implement the nation’s first comprehensive state ocean plan, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), then called the Minerals Management Service, was beginning the process of designating wind energy areas in Atlantic federal waters. As the process progressed, it became clear that the focus needed to move beyond single-sector management. The agency’s “Smart from the Start” process kicked in and soon the best available data and stakeholder input was being considered to define the areas. We think that integrated approach was a critical element that led to this week’s successful auction.

The recent news of the RI/MA WEA auction was especially good, because we know the auction winner, offshore wind energy developer Deepwater Wind, understands the value of integrated ocean management principles. SeaPlan has been working with the company during the development of their five-turbine demonstration wind farm off of Block Island, RI. Along with researchers from CoastalVision and Roger Williams University, we are conducting a five-year before-after/control-impact study of the potential effects on fisheries and marine life associated with the proposed wind farm. Additionally, the company is working closely with local commercial fishermen to conduct collaborative research and maintain an open, constructive dialog to improve understanding of traditional and emerging use compatibilities.

The next auction is scheduled to be held on September 4, 2013, for a WEA near Virginia state waters and additional auctions are scheduled offshore Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey waters by 2014.