I spent yesterday at the American Wind Energy Association’s first North American Offshore Wind Conference & Exhibition in Atlantic City, New Jersey mostly in the policy and business track for panel discussions. The day was mostly spent focused on the regulatory process and perhaps the most important piece of project development: stakeholder involvement.
The Department of the Interior oversees the 1.7 billion acres of offshore area that belongs to the American public, and is ultimately responsible for leasing offshore areas for wind development. At the morning general session, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivered the keynote and officially launched the U.S. offshore wind industry by signing the first ever federal lease for an offshore wind project – the Cape Wind project off Nantucket Sound. Even though DOI is ultimately responsible, dozens of state and federal agencies are involved in the approval of offshore wind farms. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers permits permanent structures that may affect waterway navigation, the Federal Aviation Administration ensures that turbines do not interfere with flight paths, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife enforces the Endangered Species Act, just to name a few. At each step in these processes, the public has an opportunity to comment and make suggestions to ensure smart development of our oceans.
When it is all said and done, an offshore wind farm may take seven to nine years to collect all the permits, licenses and leases necessary for construction. Despite this lengthy process, developers are lining up along the coasts to install offshore wind farms – highlighting the attractiveness of the resource. Never the less, companies are looking for ways to reduce the lengthy timeline for development and at the top of their list is stakeholder engagement. Community meetings, one-on-one fact sharing, townhall forums, webinars, letters to editors, blogging, creating fact sheets, generating news articles and media, solicitation of information and gathering information for many stakeholders were all spoken about, at length, as essential activities to developing the industry. The offshore wind industry relies very heavily on stakeholder engagement, making it all the more important for non-profits like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and everyday citizens to stay involved in the offshore wind process.
One way people can get involved in the offshore wind industry right now is by commenting on the new Department of Energy Offshore Wind Innovation and Development Initiative (OSWIND) program. The Department of Energy strongly encourages public involvement with this new program, and requests comments be submitted on the new program by October 29th. So take the time to read about the new program and get involved!