A formal agreement between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Army Corps of Engineers will pull more resources into federal planning for offshore wind energy, helping BOEM deal with the Biden administration’s big push to open more federal waters to leasing.
Announced Monday, the agreement allows the Army corps to provide BOEM with additional scientific and technical resources needed to evaluate offshore wind projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.
“While the scope of the agreement covers all renewable energy activities in the Atlantic, the initial focus will be on the USACE supporting the review of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Commercial project and the Kitty Hawk project” off North Carolina, according to a BOEM statement.
The new partnership is the latest development out of a Biden executive order directing closer interagency consultation between the Department of the Interior and Department of Defense to “increase renewable energy production on public lands and in offshore waters, while ensuring robust protection for our lands, waters, and biodiversity and creating good-paying jobs,” the agency says.
Since March, BOEM and Interior have been keeping up a drumbeat of new developments, from promising up to 10 environmental reviews this year for East Coast wind projects, to speeding up plans for floating wind turbines off California and soliciting interest from wind developers in Gulf of Mexico sites.
Agency officials acknowledge the push is demanding a lot from its workforce.
“Yes, this is a real challenge for us,” said James Bennett, chief of BOEM’s renewable energy program, in response to questions during one virtual public meeting in May. “We have a team examining that.”
Along with reassigning staff from elsewhere in BOEM and hiring employees, agency leaders looked to the Army corps and other federal agencies to help as a “way forward with project reviews as expeditiously as possible,” said Bennett.
“This agreement shows the value of a whole-of-government approach to clean energy development,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said in announcing the new pact. “BOEM has a long history of successful collaboration with the DOD and USACE on energy and marine mineral projects. Additionally, our state partnerships are vital to the advancement of BOEM’s renewable energy program.”
“This partnership is a great example of federal agencies coming together for a common goal: to advance renewable energy solutions for the nation,” said Karen Baker, programs director for the corps’ North Atlantic Division. “We look forward to applying USACE scientific and technical support to enable the BOEM-led team.”
Specifically the agreement gives BOEM access to the Army corps’ technical expertise as it plans new leasing in the Atlantic and reviews National Environmental Policy Act documents, construction and operations plans, and technical reports.
Governors of Virginia and North Carolina who are pressing for new offshore wind development praised the agreement.
“We hope that it will provide a clear line of sight for offshore wind development and signals to the world that Virginia and the United States are leaders in offshore wind,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam , who said state officials and Old Dominion University helped develop the new review process.
“North Carolina is a national leader in clean energy and manufacturing, and partnerships like this one support both our environment and economy,” said Gov. Roy Cooper.