Maine to Participate in Discussions on Amending Federal Regulations to Boost Offshore Wind
April 9, 2019 – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the Trump Administration’s plans to propose “a series of regulatory changes later this year to boost offshore wind develop off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.” These changes could provide more welcome news to offshore wind developers on the heels of Maine Governor Janet Mills’ announcement that Maine is open for wind energy business, once again.
The offshore wind regulatory process is a veritable laundry list of agency acronyms, licensing, and leasing requirements. Given that the lion’s share of potential offshore wind energy is in federal waters, navigating the federal process is necessary to realize the full benefit of the energy source. In broad strokes, here are the existing regulatory frameworks that the 2019 regulatory changes could amend.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 granted the Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management jurisdiction over competitive and non-competitive commercial leasing of sites on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore wind projects. BOEM oversees the competitive bidding and approval process for OCS leases. Before any lease’s approval, current regulations for commercial leasing of an offshore wind project require a comprehensive environmental review as well as a site assessment or an activities plan for testing potential sites. BOEM must also approve of a construction and operations plan and receive minimum financial assurances by the lessee before each phase of development, including before construction begins and accounting for costs of decommissioning. Major activities require further environmental assessment or review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. FERC licensing of the wind energy generation and wholesale transmission of an offshore wind project represents another wholly separate federal regulatory approval process. Further, the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Park Service all have potential roles in authorizing a given project.
At even a summary level of detail, the timeline of years for seeking regulatory approvals is apparent, and that timeline is unpredictable to say the least. By the time of final approval, up to three or more federal agencies have had a hand in an offshore wind project’s approval, not to mention state agencies involved in authorizing the environmental and economic impacts closer to shore and the cables to interconnect to the grid.
This regulatory-focused approach to boosting offshore wind projects is not a new concept. Among the National Offshore Wind Strategy’s identified needs is avoiding unnecessary regulatory burdens and making federal review timelines more transparent and predictable. Maine’s wind energy proponents will hope that the promised amendments find new efficiencies and transparency in the regulatory process for major offshore wind deployment in the Gulf of Maine and elsewhere.
 See Verrill Dana, Energy Law Update, Governor Mills Lifts Wind Power Moratorium (February 15, 2019) (http://www.energylawupdate.com/energy-law-update/2019/2/15/governor-mills-lifts-wind-power-moratorium.html).
 See Department of Energy, National Offshore Wind Strategy (released Feb. 2011, updated Sept. 2016) (https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/National-Offshore-Wind-Strategy-report-09082016.pdf); see also White House, Draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan (Jan. 2012). (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/ceq/national_ocean_policy_draft_implementation_plan_01-12-12.pdf).