BOEM adapts Gulf of Mexico wind-energy planning process to central Atlantic areas

BOEM's proposal for eight wind energy areas off the central U.S. Atlantic coast covers about 1.7 million acres, down from 3.9 million acres in the agency's original call area in April 2022.

The U.S. Bureau of Offshore Energy Management proposed eight new wind energy areas off the U.S. central Atlantic coast, totaling around 1.7 million acres, on Wednesday, 16 November.

The total area proposed for wind energy development was reduced from 3.9 million in the original proposal outlined by the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management earlier in 2022.

Ranging in distance 19 to 77 miles from the coasts of the U.S. states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, the so-called WEAs could be the first to venture to the edge of the East Coast outer continental shelf – potentially requiring use of floating turbines, if wind developer choose to bid on the most-distant, deepest areas.

BOEM officials said they have been gathering information since the call area was released in April, from sources including the Central Atlantic Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force; other federal agencies and the four states; and input from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina state agencies; input from federal agencies; and comments from stakeholders and ocean users, including the maritime community, offshore wind developers, and the commercial fishing industry.

Fishermen and other ocean users have been asking BOEM to increase the transparency in how wind energy areas are selected. To meet that call, BOEM said it is adapting an existing ocean planning model that’s already being used in the Gulf of Mexico.

Consultations with the Gulf of Mexico’s shrimp-fishing industry led BOEM to exclude the most-productive fishing areas from future leasing areas off Galveston, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. BOEM said it wants to ensure wind energy developments can coexist with traditional fisheries and potential aquaculture development.

“We thought it was really good idea to work with BOEM on a similar process,” BOEM Gulf of Mexico Regional Director Michael Celata said in a meeting Oct. 3 with the Business Network for Offshore Wind’s Gulf working group.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance raised its industry’s concerns in summer 2021, and its concerns were similar to the objections that have come up on the Atlantic coast: Displacement of fishermen from traditional fishing grounds and shoreside support infrastructure, damage to fishing gear and safety hazards from wind turbine arrays, and environmental effects on marine life.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance identified “high to moderate” areas of fishing activity, helping BOEM to exclude those blocks from leasing. Originally planners had tracking data for shrimp fishing trips for 2009 to 2019, but in discussions with the Southern Shrimp Alliance agreed 2015 to 2019 electronic logbook data was more comprehensive.

The shrimpers suggested adapting the planning model in use for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquaculture Opportunity Area Atlases. A modified version is now being used for the central Atlantic wind areas.

BOEM says the central Atlantic areas could be reduced further during that process and further public comment processes. Along with commercial fishing and marine habitat issues, other potential conflicts are military use of the central Atlantic waters and airspace, a potential U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) safety fairway for vessels, and a NASA danger zone downrange from its Wallops Island, Va., launch facility.

The 16 November announcement started a 30-day public comment period. Virtual meetings are planned for 30 November at 12:30 p.m. Eastern and interested parties can register online for BOEM's meeting with fishing community and related interests. A second meeting between BOEM and environmental organizations will take place 1 December at 1:30 p.m., and will also be open to the public.

Image courtesy of BOEM


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