On October 5, 2022, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that it had completed a final environmental assessment (EA) and issued a finding of no significant impacts (FONSI) for offshore wind energy activities in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (WEA) located 20 miles offshore central California. BOEM initiated the environmental review on November 12, 2021, and published a draft EA on April 6, 2022, for public review and comment.
BOEM’s EA considers potential impacts from the issuance of leases within the Morro Bay WEA, which comprises nearly 240,898 acres (376 square miles) off the coast of Morro Bay, California, as depicted on the map below. The Morro Bay WEA, if developed, could bring up to 3 GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power more than one million homes. The EA also considers potential environmental consequences of site characterization activities (e.g., biological, archeological, geological and geophysical surveys), site assessment activities (e.g., installation of meteorological buoys) and project easements and related right-of-way grants for subsea cable corridors in the Morro Bay WEA.
If all goes as planned, BOEM will hold its first competitive auction for offshore wind leases for areas off the Pacific Coast this year. In early May 2022, BOEM announced that it had completed an EA and issued a FONSI for offshore wind energy activities in the Humboldt Wind WEA located 20 miles offshore northern California. (For more information on this EA, see our Legal Update “US BOEM Issues Final Environmental Review for Offshore Wind Area Off Northern California,” May 6, 2022).
On May 26, 2022, BOEM issued a Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) that includes three proposed lease areas in the Morro Bay WEA and two proposed lease areas in the Humboldt WEA. The PSN provides detailed information about, among other things, the proposed lease areas, proposed lease provisions and conditions, and auction details. The development of the Final Sale Notice (FSN) will be informed by the comments that were received during the PSN comment period. The FSN will provide the final details concerning, among other things, the lease areas to be auctioned, the auction details and lease stipulations. The FSN will be published in the Federal Register 45 days before the lease sale and will provide the date and time of the lease sale. BOEM proposes to hold a mock auction that is open only to qualified bidders, those who have met the requirements and deadlines for auction participation, including submission of the bid deposit. Final details of the mock auction will be provided in the FSN. The PSN announced that 23 entities are currently qualified to participate in the proposed California lease sale. Prospective bidders, not previously qualified for a California lease sale, were required to submit all mandatory qualification materials to BOEM by August 1, 2022. A final list of qualified bidders will likely be included in the FSN. (For more information on this PSN, see our Legal Update “Biden Administration Proposes First-Ever California Offshore Wind Lease Sale,” May 27, 2022).
With the issuance of the Morro Bay EA, BOEM has completed the environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act that are necessary to support the competitive auction and lease issuance to the winners.
Importantly, BOEM leases do not authorize any activity in the lease area but instead only grant a lessee the exclusive right to submit plans for BOEM’s consideration. Leasing marks the beginning of a multiyear process, which provides additional opportunities for stakeholder participation. A successful lessee would need to submit to BOEM a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) within the first year after lease issuance, unless granted an extension. The SAP describes the initial site assessment and characterization activities necessary to assess siting a project within the lease area for commercial offshore wind development and the potential impacts of those proposed activities. Only after BOEM’s approval of the SAP can a lessee begin activities assessing the site. A lessee would also need to submit a Construction and Operation Plan (COP) for BOEM approval that details the onshore and offshore construction and operation of the wind energy project. Based on the project-specific details in the COP, BOEM would then conduct additional environmental and technical reviews in deciding whether it could be approved and then construction could begin.
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