The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced three final Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
According to a release, the designations came after engagement and feedback from states, tribes, local residents, ocean users, federal government partners, and other members of the public. If fully developed, the areas could support between four and eight gigawatts of energy production.
The three WEAs total about 356,550 acres. The first WEA (A-2) is 101,767 acres, 26 nautical miles from Delaware Bay. The second WEA (B-1) is 78,285 acres and about 23.5 nautical miles off Ocean City, MD. The third WEA (C-1) is 176,506 acres and is 35 nautical miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, off Virginia.
The sites may trigger less intense opposition from coastal residents since towers may not be visible from shore. Current wind power projects nearing the final go-ahead are less than 20 miles off the coast of Delaware and Maryland.
However, opposition has emerged that claims wind power is a threat to marine life while at the same time discounting the impact of fishing and global warming on whales and other species.
Development of A-2 would open the door to a wind power project that would help Delaware meet its alternative energy targets. The Delaware General Assembly recently passed a bipartisan bill calling for studying alternative energy options.
“BOEM values a robust and transparent offshore wind planning process, which requires early and frequent engagement with tribal governments, the Department of Defense, NASA, other government agencies, and ocean users,” said BOEM Director Liz Klein. “We will continue to work closely with them and all interested stakeholders as we move forward with our environmental review.”
BOEM will publish its Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental assessment of potential impacts from offshore wind leasing in the WEAs in the Federal Register on Tuesday, which will initiate a 30-day public comment period. Another public comment period will occur if BOEM decides to move forward with a lease sale in any of the WEAs.
BOEM partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) to develop a planning model that assisted in the selection of the final WEAs.
This model used best available data on natural resources, ocean industries like fisheries and energy production, and areas of national security activities to identify areas with high wind energy resource potential while reducing potential impacts to other ocean users and sensitive environmental resources.
On November 16, 2022, BOEM announced and requested public comment on eight draft WEAs on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf offshore North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, covering approximately 1.7 million acres. The draft WEAs represented a subset of the original 3.9 million acres that the Department of the Interior identified for public comment in April 2022.
The final WEAs are in relatively shallow water. BOEM may identify additional WEAs in deepwater areas offshore the U.S. Central Atlantic coast for future leasing upon further study.
As part of BOEM’s ongoing coordination with the Department of Defense and NASA, an in-depth review of WEA B-1 (off the Maryland coast) will continue to determine if their activities could co-exist with wind energy development.
The results of the final in-depth assessment from DoD and NASA will be used to inform whether WEA B-1 should be included in a possible lease sale, which would be the next step in the wind energy process. There would be another public comment period if BOEM decides to move forward with a proposed lease sale.
Further information on the final WEAs and BOEM’s notice to prepare an environmental assessment can be found on BOEM’s website.