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On November 24th, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that it would be auctioning off four commercial leases for the Wind Energy Area (WEA) south of Martha’s Vineyard on January 29th. The area to be leased, which is identical to the area proposed in the Proposed Sale Notice published this past June, encompasses more than 1,160 square miles of open water – a tract larger than the state of Rhode Island. The project is slated to become the largest off-shore wind tract in federal waters in the United States.

If and when it is fully developed, the Martha’s Vineyard WEA has the potential to increase wind generation capacity by four or five Gigawatts (GW). According to the BOEM, which framed the announcement as part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to curb carbon pollution and mitigate climate change, a fully-developed Vineyard WEA would support 800 turbines and produce enough energy to power 1.4 million homes in the United States. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the auction will “triple the amount of federal offshore acreage available for commercial-scale wind energy projects,” making it the largest competitive wind energy lease sale to date.

Several advocacy organizations, including the New England Fishery Management Council and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, had previously voiced concerns about possible harm to aquatic and aviary life, but the Bureau’s most recent Environmental Assessment (EA) concluded that “reasonably foreseeable environmental effects associated with the commercial wind lease issuance and related activities would not significantly impact the environment.”

Twelve companies are qualified to bid for the four leases, including Deepwater Wind New England, EDF Renewable Development, Energy Management, Fishermen’s Energy, Green Sail Energy, IBERDROLA RENEWABLES, NRG Bluewater Wind Massachusetts, OffshoreMW, RES America Developments, Sea Breeze Energy, US Mainstream Renewable Power (Offshore) and U.S. Wind. For more information about the auction announcement, please visit the BOEM’s website.