Interior Dept. touts offshore wind auction, promises more

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) downplayed the fact that the auction attracted only two bidders. The agency’s first offshore lease sale, on July 31, drew interest from three firms.

BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau said in a media call that “companies are recognizing” the potential benefits of offshore wind power.

Those projects have historically run into financing and regulatory hurdles large enough to make projects unviable. As a result, there currently are no offshore wind turbines operating in the United States.

But the technology is coming along — and so is interest in offshore wind, Beaudreau asserted.

Wednesday’s auction comes on the heels of a 164,750-acre lease off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island that brought in $3.8 million.

Beaudreau also noted the Obama administration has plans to initiate more auctions this year and in 2014 off the coasts of New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland.

He promoted Wednesday's bid as an “extremely exciting day for renewable energy in the United States,” saying it would help achieve some of the goals President Obama laid out in his second-term climate plan.

One of those aims is to expand renewable energy generation on public lands to 20,000 megawatts by 2020.

Beaudreau said the site Virginia Electric and Power leased Wednesday would help meet that mark, noting the tract can support up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 700,000 homes, according to BOEM.

The project will be licensed for 33 years if it secures final approval.

But it will likely be years before Virginia Electric and Power installs turbines, though BOEM shied away from doing any guesswork on timing.

Based on statutory deadlines, it could be at least five years before the electric utility gets the green light for construction.

It first needs to submit a site assessment plan with BOEM within six months of the Obama administration signing off on the lease. The utility will then have up to four-and-a-half years to tender a construction operation plan, which would initiate a federal environmental review process.