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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DOI and BOEMRE Announce 'Smart from the Start' Program Revisions to BOEMRE's 2009 Regulations

At 2pm EST, Secretary of the Department of Interior Ken Salazar announced the launch of a new offshore wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf entitled ‘Smart from the Start’. Sec. Salazar explained that the new program will facilitate siting, leasing and construction of new projects to encourage the efficient (but prudent) development of offshore renewable resources. In summary, the 'Smart from the Start' program comprises two tracks of revised provisions to BOEMRE's May 2009 regulations. The first track concerns the leasing process, and the second track pertains to transmission system development.

The new program, which promises to significantly shorten the time projected to obtain a subsea lease under the current regulations (7-10 years), intends to simplify the leasing process for offshore wind projects where there is only one qualified and interested developer. The revised regulations call for BOEMRE to identify Wind Energy Areas ("WEAs")-- that is, offshore locations that appear most suitable for offshore wind energy projects-- off the coasts of a number of Atlantic states including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts within the next 60 days.

By January 2011, Requests for Interest and Calls for Information ("RFI"s) will be issued for the initial WEAs to support environmental assessments for project based leases. An RFI has already been issued for coastal areas off of Maryland, and RFIs are currently in development for New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Also in January 2011, BOEMRE will initiate and coordinate Environmental Assessments ("EA") pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") at the identified WEAs to evaluate potential impacts associated with site assessment activities. As part of the EA process, the revised regulations also require BOEMRE and DOI to coordinate closely with other federal agencies to compile existing site assessment data. If the EAs reveal a Finding of No Significant Impact ("FONSI"), BOEMRE could extend leases to prospective developers for the WEAs by the end of 2011/early 2012. Developers will still need appropriate and comprehensive site-specific NEPA review of individual projects.

Later in 2011, BOEMRE will work to identify additional WEAs in other Atlantic States, possibly including New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

On the transmission side, the 'Smart from the Start' program requires BOEMRE to move aggressively to process applications to build offshore transmission lines. The identification of wind energy areas should assist the siting and feasibility reviews associated with potential offshore transmission lines.

The Department of the Interior posted a press release quoting statements made by the Secretary and the Director of BOEMRE at today's announcement:

“The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“Our ‘Smart from the Start’ Initiative for Atlantic wind will allow us to identify priority Wind Energy Areas for potential development, improve our coordination with local, state, and federal partners, and accelerate the leasing process,” Salazar noted. “If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home.”

“This coordinated initiative will help to capture the great potential that offshore wind power offers our country and our economy,” said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “Smart planning and early environmental reviews will pay great dividends in spurring responsible renewable wind energy development.”

“This accelerated and focused approach to developing the nation’s Atlantic wind resources will encourage investment while ensuring projects are built in the right way and in the right places,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael R. Bromwich.

“We believe the regulatory change we are proposing, along with our efforts to identify priority Wind Energy Areas offshore, will result in a more efficient and coordinated permitting process for offshore wind,” said Bromwich.

DOI posted a factsheet on the Smart from the Start program HERE and a factsheet on the Direct Final Rule HERE.

Big News Day for Offshore Wind: Cape Wind and Major Federal Announcement!

Stay Tuned for a Major Federal Announcement Regarding Offshore Wind Regulation and Permitting!!

US Department of the Interior ("DOI") Secretary Ken Salazar is slated to announce “a major new initiative to accelerate the responsible siting and development of wind energy projects along the Atlantic coast” at 2pm today at the Ft. McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland. Although the DOI and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management ("BOEMRE") have not released official details on the substance of the announcement, there is speculation that the DOI will be authorizing a new, more streamlined permitting process for offshore wind and hydrokinetic energy projects that could eliminate some of the duplicative requirements that are presently mandated.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael Bromwich, Delaware Senator Tom Carper, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition are also expected to be in attendance during the announcement today.

Check back here after the announcement for more specifics!

More Progress for Cape Wind!

On Monday November 22, 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities announced that it has issued a final approval for the 15-year Power Purchase Agreement ("PPA") between National Grid and Cape Wind. This approval signifies another hard-won victory for the proposed Cape Wind offshore wind project.

Under the PPA, National Grid, one of the main electricity providers in Massachusetts, will purchase 50 percent of the power generated by the Cape Wind project. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved rates starting at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour beginning in 2013, with a planned gradual increase of 3.5% to be introduced over the next 15 years. This will results in an average increase of one to two percent for most consumers' electric bills.

In its press release, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities chair Ann Berwick stated: "It is abundantly clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable resource. These benefits outweigh the costs of the project."

The Cape Wind Offshore Wind project, which will involve the installation of 130 wind turbines in the waters of Nantucket Sound, still must obtain additional federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before construction can begin.