If you live in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey or Delaware, that is.
After an exhaustive review of the environmental impacts, the Department of the Interior and it’s nephew agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, declared earlier today that there would be, quote unquote, no significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts from issuing wind energy leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas off the mid-Atlantic Coast.
That’s remarkable for a few reasons, the primary being that the process under the National Environmental Protection Act actually was allowed to run its course, which is not always the case. NEPA, for those of you policy wonks at home, is sort of a toothless law. Every government project needs to undergo an environmental review – which produces an Environmental Impact Statement, which you’ve probably heard about – but there’s really no consequence from an EIS. You can’t go to jail for breaking NEPA. It’s simply a procedural hurdle.
It’s also notable because this officially marks the start of the bidding and leasing process for those areas off shore considered suitable, and optimal, for offshore wind. Power companies and utilities have been salivating over wind farms off the coast for a while, seeing market demand rise and energy rates poised to go nowhere but up. After they addressed transmission challenges and assessed market demand, the only last barrier was government approval. Now that it’s been cleared, these companies will start racing, bidding and competing for the areas cleared for power production.
Of course anything that involves big industry, big infrastructure and government regulation will take time. And so will this.
A good model is the Cape Wind project, a group of 130 turbines on Nantucket Sound that will produce 468 megawatts of power. To give you an idea of how long this can take, Cape Wind got its initial approval in May 2005. Construction isn’t set to begin until 2013, the better part of a full decade later.