The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind (OSW) facility development by the end of 2015 with an estimated capacity of 14.6 gigawatts (DOE and DOI 2016). In December of 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a sale for a lease area offshore New York and a lease sale for the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area (WEA) offshore North Carolina is scheduled for March 2017. In addition, as of February 2017, a potential wind lease area is being considered by BOEM in the state of South Carolina.2 The only existing OSW facility on the offshore of the Atlantic Coast is the Block Island OSW facility (Rhode Island), which is located entirely within state waters.
BOEM has jurisdiction only for the transmission cable portion of the Block Island facility, which occurs within federal waters. Nearly 80% of U.S. electricity demand is in coastal states and clean, renewable, OSW energy has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emission and meet twice the total energy demand in the U.S. (DOE and DOI 2016). Development of OSW energy in the U.S. requires that key issues, including technology and cost, effective stewardship of natural resources, and an understanding of both benefits and costs of this renewable energy source, be addressed (DOE and DOI 2016).
This white paper provides a means of evaluating potential impacts of OSW energy development on coastal habitats (see Chapter 3 for definitions and descriptions of costal habitats) along the U.S. Atlantic coast in support of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation for OSW facilities. The intent of this white paper is to assist in efforts supporting a more efficient and coordinated permitting process for OSW with respect to the NEPA analysis and process. To accomplish this, available literature was compiled and reviewed for information relevant to the affected environment and effects on coastal habitats. For the purposes of this paper, coastal habitats examined are based on a combination of habitats mapped for Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) developed for the Hazardous Materials Response Division of the Office of Response and Restoration under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which include shoreline habitats and sensitive biological resources (as well as human-use resources), estuarine habitats of the National Wetlands Inventory, and other coastal resource data, as presented in this document. The final product is an effects matrix that generates a table of overall effects using intensity, context, and duration, as well as ranks (thresholds) of impacts (negligible, minor, moderate, and major) for each combination of Construction and Operations Plan (COP) action and coastal habitat.