Process for identifying potential lease areas has begun
by Bonnie Bain
To ween the U.S. off the fossil fuels causing our climate crisis, our nation needs to rapidly develop large-scale renewable energy projects. The most promising resource in our region is offshore wind, and the federal government is stepping up to identify and lease appropriate areas for commercial wind energy development in federal waters.
BOEM Identifies Gulf of Maine as Potential Site for Offshore Wind Development
The government agency in charge of this process is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). BOEM has identified the Gulf of Maine as one of several areas on the East Coast where offshore wind power could be produced at scale. In Fall 2022, BOEM began its multi-phased process for eventually identifying areas most suited to this development (learn more by watching this video). The agency hopes to auction lease areas in the Gulf of Mine in the third or fourth quarter of 2024.
The process for identifying lease areas involves research, surveys, and multiple opportunities for public input. BOEM attempts to evaluate the potential impact of development on all the different ocean users (fishing, shipping, military, recreation), historical and cultural resources, and the marine environment, including nesting and migrating birds.
In early 2023, BOEM released to the public its initial “Draft Call Area” for the Gulf of Maine. This is the area within which the agency is seeking to identify sites most suited to wind development. Over time, through the evaluation process and public input, the draft call area will be winnowed down to several wind energy areas (WEAs) that can be auctioned for development.
This graphic shows the process and timeline for identifying WEAs:
In early 2023, BOEM released to the public its initial “Draft Call Area” for the Gulf of Maine.
With the release of the draft call area for the Gulf of Maine, BOEM hosted several in-person and virtual stakeholder meetings in January and February to explain its process and solicit feedback (identified by the red arrow in the graphic above). BOEM used these meetings to learn more about local knowledge, concerns, and uses of this vast marine resource. Since Salem has an opportunity to become the offshore wind port staging, operating and maintaining wind farms in the Gulf of Maine, SAFE has been deeply engaged in this process.
In early winter, SAFE members attended a large in-person meeting held at Salem State University as well as six virtual meetings that focused on specific stakeholders and topics: Shipping & Commercial Maritime, Fisheries (multiple meetings that covered different fisheries and gear types), Migratory Species, and Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations. For the most part, we found the process open and transparent. Public concerns included impacts on the fishing industry both in terms of accessibility of areas and health of fisheries and impacts on marine and avian species. Attendees also expressed concerns regarding construction and decommissioning phases of these projects.
BOEM shared some of their environmental impact research and other resources to explore these issues in more depth. Though there is extensive data from wind farms in Europe and some information from the small Block Island wind farm, floating turbines to be deployed in the Gulf of Maine are new and their full impact is not yet understood.
Among the many documents (found in the “Meeting Materials” tab) and slides presented, the following may be of particular interest:
- Draft Call Area Map with fisheries data
- Draft Call Area map with North Atlantic right whale data
- Electromagnetic Fields and Marine Life
- Underwater Sound and Protected Species
Though information on avian impacts is still being gathered, multiple ongoing studies modeling collision risk and migratory patterns for birds and bats should fill out the picture. All national conservation groups seem to agree that proper studies should lead to good siting plans to ensure the least harm.
We expect to hear more from BOEM as the next round of information is released. Salem political leadership will participate in a Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force Meeting in the Spring, and more stakeholder conversations will be held.
For more details and the latest information you can follow the Gulf of Maine BOEM page.
Bonnie Bain is SAFE’s Offshore Wind Program Manager.