Interior Department Sets Rules for Offshore Renewable Energy Projects

April 29, 2009

Photo of a row of wind turbines rising from the ocean.

The new Interior Department regulations should spur the development of offshore wind power in the United States.
Credit: GE Energy, ©2004, General Electric Company

President Barack Obama announced on Earth Day that the U.S. Department of the Interior has finalized a framework for renewable energy production on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The framework establishes a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for orderly, safe, and environmentally responsible renewable energy development activities on the OCS, including the siting and construction of offshore wind power facilities. The new program also establishes methods for sharing revenues generated from OCS renewable energy projects with adjacent coastal states. The framework will enhance partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies and tribal governments to assist in maximizing the economic and ecological benefits of OCS renewable energy development. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 granted the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) the authority to regulate renewable energy development on the OCS. See the MMS press release and the final regulations (PDF 1.6 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

The MMS regulations were released just days after two utilities in New York announced their collaboration on an offshore wind power facility. Consolidated Edison (Con Edison), which serves New York City and most of Westchester County, has teamed up with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to advance the proposed LIPA-Con Edison Offshore Wind Farm project. The proposed wind power facility will be located about 13 miles off the south shore of the Rockaway Peninsula, which forms the southern boundary of the Borough of Queens in New York City. The project will be designed for a capacity of 350 megawatts, with the ability to double its capacity in the future. To develop the project, the utilities are forming a wind collaborative comprised of state and municipal entities interested in supporting the project or buying power from it, with the near-term goal of issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the project by the end of this year. The utilities have already signed up the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The project is based on a feasibility study conducted by the two utilities. See the LIPA press release and the feasibility study (PDF 153 KB).

The NYPA, a nonprofit power supplier owned by the state, is also involved in an entirely different kind of offshore wind energy: wind power facilities located in the Great Lakes. On Earth Day, the NYPA released a RFEI for wind power projects with capacities of at least 120 megawatts, located in the New York State waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. That's the first step for the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project, an initiative supported by NYPA, NYSERDA, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, National Grid, state and local environmental organizations, wind power developers, and the University of Buffalo. NYPA also intends to issue a request for proposals (RFP) by the end of April to examine technical issues related to the viability of such projects. If the results of those efforts are promising, they could eventually lead to an RFP to develop an actual offshore wind power facility. Note that the facility would not be located in federal waters, so it will not require the involvement of the Interior Department. See the NYPA press release and the RFEI.