In another step toward the development of offshore wind projects along the East Coast, the U.S. government has held its first lease auctions.
The Department of Interior said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed scheduled three competitive lease sale auction on renewable energy sites on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The first auction in July covered two New England sites. A second sale for an area off Virginia is scheduled for September.
At close to 170,000 acres and located 9.2 nm south of the Rhode Island coastline, the offshore Massachusetts and Rhode Island Wind Energy Area were be auctioned off as two leases. The areas are currently being referred to as the North Lease Area, which covers approximately 97,500 acres, and the South Lease Area, approximately 67,250 acres. In both cases, the winning bidder was Deepwater Wind.
Along with a separate proposal by Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound, the long-anticipated offshore wind projects are expected to bring an economic boost to the New England commercial marine industry. Still, some are skeptical about the slow pace at which the offshore energy projects seem to be moving forward.
“We’re mildly excited about it,” said Peter Duclos, president of Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, Mass. “It’s been dragging along here for a couple of years now. With Cape Wind basically in our backyard, we’ve been following it closely. … Cape Wind seems to be furthest ahead, but there are still some hurdles. … Nobody is spending money on anything yet.”
There seems to be little doubt, however, that once the offshore energy projects begin, the impact on the amount of subcontract work in the region could be very substantial.
“If it happens, it’s going to mean a lot of work for many yards like ours,” says Duclos. “There’s a potential need for hundreds and hundreds of boats.”
Those vessels are likely to include crew and service vessels of various sizes, as well as large vessels and barges for insulation and transport.
“Our interest is firstly in the smaller service vessels servicing farms,” says Duclos. “We have a number of proven Incat Crowther designs, 18 to 25 meters, that we’ve been working on, proven in service in Europe and the Persian Gulf. We’re ready to go.”
Despite the inevitable increase in demand for service crews and vessels, the competition for contracts is expected to be fierce.
“It will be good for the region,” said Capt. Conrad Roy Jr., of Tucker-Row Marine Towing in Mattapoisett, Mass. “Of course, we want to be of help…I’m sure competition will be harsh, like it is on every project. …Every company’s going to want to get it on it.”
As plans for these New England sites appear to be reaching fruition, more areas across the country are being considered as possible offshore energy or wind farm sites. While the government’s first competitive auction was closing in late July, BOEM announced that it will hold a single lease auction for an offshore commercial wind energy site in Virginia, on the Outer Continental Shelf.
“With the help of key stakeholders, including the wind industry, maritime interests and conservation organizations, we have identified an area offshore Virginia that is well suited for commercial wind energy development and thoroughly reconciled with the environment and other important uses,” said BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau.
The Virginia site is approximately 112,800 acres and located 23.5 nm east of Virginia Beach. The federal auction, scheduled for Sept. 4, would begin at a price of $2 per acre. The eight bidding energy companies include Virginia’s largest utility company, Dominion Virginia Power and Cape Wind developer Energy Management, Inc.
“There’s obviously a lot of interest,” said John Weber, ocean planning director at the Northeast Regional Ocean Council. “Cape Wind has gone all the way through the permitting and leasing process. No other projects have come this far. There’s a project in New Jersey that’s close, and now an area off of Virginia is under further consideration as well. … The bottom line with these projects is that the details really matter, and that’s what the conversation is about right now.”