The plan to auction leases to offshore wind farm developers represents an enormous commitment to a potentially vast new industry.
Much is at stake: Wind turbines in the Atlantic alone could generate more than 1,000 gigawatts of power, an amount equal to the country’s current total energy-generating capacity, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), part of the Interior Department.
The area to be leased is about the size of Delaware. Included are 125 square miles off the coast of Maryland, 161 square miles off Delaware and 176 square miles off Virginia. Leases will also be auctioned off the coast of New Jersey and Rhode Island, but the lion’s share — 1,161 square miles — is off Massachusetts. The auction is planned before the end of this year; an exact date hasn’t yet been set.
The legal battles and political wrangling over the relatively tiny Cape Wind project seem never-ending. This time, however, as the federal government tries to jump-start a homegrown, renewable energy source, it is anticipating and trying to address in advance every possible objection.
“There were many lessons learned from Cape Wind. Try not to build too close to billionaires that like to go sailing in Nantucket Sound was one of them,” said Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, an organization that represents eight major developers.
His comment refers to the fierce resistance to Cape Wind funded in large part by oil heir billionaire William Koch, who owns a home in Cape Cod. Opposition created strange bedfellows, namely Koch and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Koch, who has bankrolled conservative efforts and candidates to oppose the Democratic party’s environmental protection initiatives, this time helped finance an alliance that, along with objecting to the higher cost of energy generated by wind turbines, cited environmental concerns.
The challenges by opponents of Cape Wind illuminated a number of concerns about wind farms, including spoiled views and potential hazards to birds, marine life and underwater archaeological sites.
BOEM, through a variety of studies, is anticipating those issues as part of its “Smart from the Start” leasing program.
The view of wind farms from land — perhaps the most contentious issue of Cape Wind — has been the easiest to address. The areas to be auctioned all start more than 10 miles offshore, as opposed to the five miles set for Cape Wind.