At 2pm EST, Secretary of the Department of Interior Ken Salazar announced the launch of a new offshore wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf entitled 'Smart from the Start'. Sec. Salazar explained that the new program will facilitate siting, leasing and construction of new projects to encourage the efficient (but prudent) development of offshore renewable resources. In summary, the 'Smart from the Start' program comprises two tracks of revised provisions to BOEMRE's May 2009 regulations. The first track concerns the leasing process, and the second track pertains to transmission system development. The new program, which promises to significantly shorten the time projected to obtain a subsea lease under the current regulations (7-10 years), intends to simplify the leasing process for offshore wind projects where there is only one qualified and interested developer. The revised regulations call for BOEMRE to identify Wind Energy Areas ("WEAs")– that is, offshore locations that appear most suitable for offshore wind energy projects– off the coasts of a number of Atlantic states including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts within the next 60 days. By January 2011, Requests for Interest and Calls for Information ("RFI"s) will be issued for the initial WEAs to support environmental assessments for project based leases. An RFI has already been issued for coastal areas off of Maryland, and RFIs are currently in development for New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Also in January 2011, BOEMRE will initiate and coordinate Environmental Assessments ("EA") pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") at the identified WEAs to evaluate potential impacts associated with site assessment activities. As part of the EA process, the revised regulations also require BOEMRE and DOI to coordinate closely with other federal agencies to compile existing site assessment data. If the EAs reveal a Finding of No Significant Impact ("FONSI"), BOEMRE could extend leases to prospective developers for the WEAs by the end of 2011/early 2012. Developers will still need appropriate and comprehensive site-specific NEPA review of individual projects. Later in 2011, BOEMRE will work to identify additional WEAs in other Atlantic States, possibly including New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. On the transmission side, the 'Smart from the Start' program requires BOEMRE to move aggressively to process applications to build offshore transmission lines. The identification of wind energy areas should assist the siting and feasibility reviews associated with potential offshore transmission lines. The Department of the Interior posted a press release quoting statements made by the Secretary and the Director of BOEMRE at today's announcement: "The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America's renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation's vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "Our 'Smart from the Start' Initiative for Atlantic wind will allow us to identify priority Wind Energy Areas for potential development, improve our coordination with local, state, and federal partners, and accelerate the leasing process," Salazar noted. "If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home." "This coordinated initiative will help to capture the great potential that offshore wind power offers our country and our economy," said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. "Smart planning and early environmental reviews will pay great dividends in spurring responsible renewable wind energy development." "This accelerated and focused approach to developing the nation's Atlantic wind resources will encourage investment while ensuring projects are built in the right way and in the right places," said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael R. Bromwich. "We believe the regulatory change we are proposing, along with our efforts to identify priority Wind Energy Areas offshore, will result in a more efficient and coordinated permitting process for offshore wind," said Bromwich. DOI posted a factsheet on the Smart from the Start program HERE and a factsheet on the Direct Final Rule HERE.
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