offshore wind farm with vessel in foreground

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Biden Administration Advances Offshore Wind Planning in Gulf of Mexico

Mike Schuler
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January 14, 2022

With offshore wind headlines this week focusing on the “historic” lease sale off New York and New Jersey, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also announced it is preparing a draft environmental assessment (EA) to consider the impacts of potential offshore wind leasing in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The area to be reviewed includes almost 30 million acres just west of the Mississippi River to the Texas/Mexican border. This is the same area for which BOEM requested public input when the agency published a Call for Information and Nominations in the Federal Register back in November. However BOEM will narrow the area based on stakeholder and ocean user input before advancing any Wind Energy Areas, which are offshore locations that appear most suitable for wind energy development.

The announcement comes as part of the Biden Administration’s goal of achieving 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030.

“The Gulf of Mexico is well-positioned to support a transition to a renewable energy future, as much of the infrastructure already exists to support offshore wind development in the region,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “BOEM’s Environmental Assessment is an important step to ensure that any development in the region is done responsibly and in a way that avoids, reduces, or mitigates potential impacts to the ocean and to ocean users.”

BOEM is preparing a draft EA in order to be able to respond to future needs, as technology develops for deeper waters and lower wind speeds. The draft EA will consider potential environmental consequences of site characterization activities (i.e., biological, archeological and geological, as well as geophysical surveys and core samples) and site assessment activities (i.e., installation of meteorological buoys) associated with the possibility of issuing wind energy leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Should a lease sale advance, BOEM will develop an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the specific environmental consequences of any proposed project, in consultation with Tribes and appropriate federal, state, and local agencies, and with participation by stakeholders and the public.

BOEM has been collaborating with local, state, federal, and Tribal governments to minimize conflicts between ocean uses. The stakeholders comprise the Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, which first met last June and is planning to meet again in early 2022.

Earlier this week, BOEM announced plans to hold its first-ever offshore wind lease sale next month, auctioning a record of more than 480,000 acres offshore New York and New Jersey. The February 23 auction will allow offshore wind developers to bid on six lease areas, the most areas ever offered in a single auction, in an area known as the New York Bight. The sale could potentially result in 5.6 to 7 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 2 million homes.

Under the Biden Administration, BOEM has already approved the nation’s first two commercial-scale offshore wind projects in federal waters: the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project (approved on May 11, 2021) and the 130-megawatt South Fork Wind project (approved on November 24, 2021).

Currently, BOEM has 18 commercial offshore wind leases on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and it recently announced plans to hold up to seven new offshore wind lease sales by 2025, which would represent more than 22 GW of clean energy for the nation. The seven potential leases will include areas in the New York Bight and offshore the Carolinas and California later this year, to be followed by lease sales for the Central Atlantic, Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Mexico, and offshore Oregon.

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