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Whitehouse, Reed, Chafee: RI Offshore Wind Area Set for Key Environmental Review

Critical Step in RI’s Commercial Offshore Wind Energy Development

PROVIDENCE, RI - U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Governor Lincoln Chafee say the Ocean State is on track to develop commercial wind energy programs in federal waters off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts through the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative.
 
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today officially began an important environmental review to determine if there are significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with issuing wind energy leases in Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ shared “Wind Energy Area.”  Other key considerations that will be analyzed in the process include the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, fisheries, vessel traffic, and visual and cultural resources, including Native American tribal areas.
 
“Today’s announcement is an important step in advancing offshore wind development in the Ocean State,” said Reed, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Interior Department.  “It is important that we develop our coastal resources in a thoughtful and inclusive manner as we strive to make Rhode Island a national leader in offshore wind development, and help bring assembly and manufacturing jobs to the state.”
 
“Every step towards offshore renewable energy development brings Rhode Island closer to creating clean-energy jobs right here at home,” said Whitehouse.  “We are watching to make sure that in the federal process Rhode Island gets credit for its excellent work on offshore wind projects through the thorough state-led process that engaged all affected stakeholders.”
 
“This announcement further demonstrates Rhode Island’s commitment to being a national leader in offshore wind development,” Governor Lincoln Chafee said. “The Environmental Assessment will be a critical component in continuing to move our state to the forefront of offshore wind energy.”
 
The Environmental Assessment (EA) is a critical step in Rhode Island’s offshore wind leasing process that will gather input from key stakeholders for public comments, and BOEM leadership will host public information sessions on July 16 and 17 to further engage stakeholders.  It also reflects a streamlined approach to issuing commercial leases that will facilitate the commercial wind leasing process.  Under questioning from Reed at two separate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau committed to expediting the offshore wind development leasing process by streamlining the environmental assessment while ensuring a thoughtful analytical approach with stakeholder input.
 
Reed and Whitehouse have worked to ensure that future offshore wind turbines are appropriately sited in areas of greatest energy potential and with minimal impact to the environment, fisherman, and boaters.  In February, BOEM officials announced that a critical fishing area, known as Cox’s Ledge, would be removed from consideration for development.
 
As part of the competitive leasing process, Senator Reed brought Secretary Salazar to Rhode Island to see firsthand the work the state is doing as it seeks commercial leases for wind projects.  Rhode Island developed the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), a detailed coastal resource management plan, which took a comprehensive look at Rhode Island’s ocean resources with consideration for the complexities of fisheries, our state’s cultural heritage, our recreation needs, and the potential for renewable energy development.
 
Senator Whitehouse recently hosted Director Beaudreau as the keynote speaker at a conference of Rhode Island’s energy and environmental leaders.  Participants were able to hear firsthand about the agency’s desire to advance offshore commercial wind in a sustainable manner and had the opportunity to question Beaudreau about moving the process forward.
 
Following the environmental review, if there is a finding of no significant impact to issue a lease, BOEM will conduct an auction for the lease sale, followed by a comprehensive site-specific National Environmental Policy Act review, including opportunities for public comment, for the construction of any proposed wind power facility.
 
BOEM has conducted environmental reviews for New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

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