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United States

Small steps for offshore wind -- Regulatory structure

The permitting process for offshore wind power in the United States took a step forward last month when the federal agency charged with offshore oversight -- the Minerals Management Service (MMS) -- released its Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This is not the much delayed package of final rules and lease guidance the wind industry is waiting for, but it is the federal government's determination of the environmental impacts that would result from offshore wind and a key step towards the formation of final regulations.

The essence of the nearly 1500 page report is that the federal government finds offshore wind power will have "negligible to minor" impacts on the marine environment, says Laurie Jodziewicz with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). As well as representing a government vote of confidence and support for offshore wind power in US waters, the report is an indication that MMS is on its way to establishing a formal lease structure and other rules.

An accompanying interim policy, however, is expected to have a more immediate impact. The MMS is for the first time accepting submissions from companies to install meteorological and marine data collection facilities. Only two offshore projects, one proposed by Cape Wind off Massachusetts and the other by FPL Energy off Long Island, have been allowed to install wind monitoring equipment in federal waters. Those permits were granted before oversight of offshore wind passed from the US Army Corps of Engineers to MMS. Other offshore wind bids, such as Bluewater Wind's proposal off the state of Delaware, have not previously been able to start wind measurements.

A lease structure is now in effect that will charge wind developers a flat fee of $5 a year for each 0.4 hectare area subject to wind measurement, a fee Professor Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware says is very reasonable. Some of Kempton's research has been used by Bluewater Wind to estimate wind speeds off the coast. The lease structure also requires the posting of a $300,000 bond to ensure the meteorological tower will be taken down when studies are complete. Kempton expects the state of Rhode Island to move forward with wind measurements and also Bluewater Wind.

Offshore wind may appear a non-starter in the US where abundant resources exist on land, but Jodziewicz says that "proximity to load" -- the desire to build wind power plant close to customers -- will make offshore happen. "What we've seen as projects go in all over the country is that there has not been a move to put them all in North Dakota and have transmission lines come out. Really that proximity to load is very important," says Jodziewicz. She identifies New England and the Northeast, regions with relatively dense populations and legislation driving wind power development, as prime candidates for offshore wind development.

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