On November 23, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the “Smart from the Start” Atlantic wind energy initiative to accelerate the responsible development of wind energy on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The initiative calls for the identification of areas on the Atlantic OCS that appear most suitable for commercial wind energy activities, and the opening of these areas for leasing and detailed site assessment activities. On February 9, 2011, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) identified areas of the OCS offshore the Mid-Atlantic States – New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia – that appeared to provide the most suitable opportunity for wind energy development while presenting the fewest apparent user conflicts.
Under the renewable energy regulations, the issuance of leases and subsequent approval of wind energy development on the OCS is a staged decision-making process. BOEMRE’s wind energy program occurs in four distinct phases: (1) planning and analysis; (2) lease issuance; (3) approval of a site assessment plan (SAP); and (4) approval of a construction and operation plan (COP). The first phase is to identify suitable areas for wind energy leasing consideration through collaborative, consultative and analytical processes. The second phase, issuance of a commercial wind energy lease, gives the lessee the exclusive right to subsequently seek BOEMRE approval for the development of the leasehold. The lease does not grant the lessee the right to construct any facilities; rather, the lease grants the right to use the leased area to develop its plans, which must be approved by BOEMRE before the lessee can move on to the next stage of the process. The third stage of the process is the submission of a SAP, which contains the lessee’s detailed proposal for the construction of a meteorological tower and/or the installation of meteorological buoys on the leasehold. The lessee’s SAP must be approved by BOEMRE before it conducts these “site assessment” activities on the leasehold. The fourth stage of the process is the submission of a COP, a detailed plan for the construction and operation of a wind energy project on the lease.
Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370f, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations at 40 CFR 1501.3, this EA was prepared to assist the agency in determining which OCS areas offshore the Mid-Atlantic States should be the focus of BOEMRE’s wind energy leasing efforts. This EA considers a number of reasonable geographic and non-geographic alternatives, and evaluates the environmental and socioeconomic consequences (including potential user conflicts) associated with issuing leases and approving site assessment plans under each alternative.