The Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Acting Director Walter Cruickshank announced yesterday that BOEM has issued the first-ever offshore right-of-way (ROW) grant to Deepwater Wind Block Island Transmission System, LLC (Deepwater Wind) for the Block Island Transmission System Project (Transmission Project). The Transmission Project, which involves an approximately 25-mile-long, bi-directional submerged transmission cable between Block Island and the Rhode Island mainland, will connect the Block Island Wind Farm to the Rhode Island mainland as well as transmit power from the existing mainland transmission grid to Block Island. The Block Island Wind Farm is a five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm located in Rhode Island state waters approximately 2.5 nautical miles southeast of Block Island.
Deepwater Wind obtained this ROW grant only after a series of complex regulatory authorizations. The process began in April 2008 when Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources solicited proposals from the national and international wind energy development community for the development of a commercial grade wind farm within the area covered by Rhode Island’s Ocean/Offshore Renewable Energy Special Area Management Plan (SAMP). Deepwater Wind was selected as the preferred developer and in 2009 entered into a Joint Development Agreement with the state to memorialize both parties’ obligations. In October 2010 the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council approved its two-year ocean SAMP, and on July 22, 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved the incorporation of the ocean SAMP into the state’s federally approved coastal management program, promoting renewable energy development projects within the SAMP. Shortly thereafter, Deepwater Wind submitted an application for the ROW with BOEM.
Prior to reviewing the application for the ROW, BOEM sought to determine the competitive interests in the ROW area through solicitation of public comment regarding site conditions and multiple uses within the ROW grant area that would be relevant to the Transmission Project (and Block Island Wind Farm) or its impacts. BOEM ultimately made a determination of no competitive interest, only two and a half months after publication of the initial request from interested parties. Upon determination of no competitive interest, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management initiated environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The analysis also included evaluation under the Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) guidelines, the requisite public interest review, and a statement of findings. USACE prepared a single environmental assessment (EA) under NEPA for both the Block Island Wind Farm and the Transmission Project, with BOEM as a cooperating agency. USACE and BOEM issued the EA in September 2014 and published the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in October 2014. Once BOEM executes the ROW grant, BOEM will finalize its review of Deepwater Wind’s General Activities Plan — the General Activities Plan would be the first approved for an offshore wind energy project for a transmission system in federal waters.
BOEM issued this historic ROW grant as a part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which encourages development of “homegrown energy” by taking steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution. As Secretary Jewell explains, “[t]his is a major milestone for offshore renewable energy in the United States.” To date, BOEM has awarded seven commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast: two noncompetitively issued leases (one for the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound offshore Massachusetts and one offshore Delaware); and five competitively issued leases (two offshore Rhode Island-Massachusetts, two offshore Maryland, and one offshore Virginia). We expect this first authorization will lead the way for subsequent offshore renewable energy projects and associated transmission to further enhance our nation’s sustainable and renewable energy development.