The federal government will auction leases for wind farms off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts on July 31, marking the first time it has sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf, the U.S. Department of Interior said.
The area is 9 nautical miles off the coast of Rhode Island, sitting between and to the south of Block Island and Martha's Vineyard, and will be auctioned as two leases. The north area is around 150 square miles, while the south area covers a little more than 100 square miles.
"Today we are moving closer to tapping into the enormous potential offered by offshore wind to create jobs, increase our sustainability, and strengthen our nation's competitiveness in this new energy frontier," Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a written statement.
The Department of Interior and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management first announced plans for the auction in November but did not set a date. They said at the time the federal government would also auction a lease off the coast of Virginia, though plans have not yet been announced for that sale.
The Department of Energy estimates that the area off Rhode Island could support enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes.
"That's just a fraction of what we could be tapping into with this clean energy resource just off our shores," said Nancy Sopko, ocean advocate for the conservation group Oceana. She called Tuesday's announcement an important step in the right direction to develop more offshore wind in the United States.
There are currently no offshore wind farms in the United States, though several are being developed in state and federal waters.
The Cape Wind project, in federal waters off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, was the nation's first offshore wind project to be approved and predates the system that has since been put into place. Cape Wind is raising money for the project, and spokesman Mark Rodgers said construction could begin later this year.
He said they expect it will be the nation's first offshore wind farm.
However, another project run by Deepwater Wind off Rhode Island could beat Cape Wind to that title. The project, off Block Island, includes a handful of turbines and is scheduled to start operating in 2015, with some onshore construction starting next year. Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said Tuesday he is hopeful they will be the first.
Deepwater Wind and Energy Management Inc., the company behind Cape Wind, are among nine bidders the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has determined are eligible to participate in the July auction.
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