On May 5, 2022, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that it had completed an environmental assessment (EA) and issued a finding of no significant impacts (FONSI) for offshore wind energy activities in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area (WEA) located 20 miles offshore northern California. BOEM initiated the environmental review on July 28, 2021, and published a draft EA on January 11, 2022, for public review and comment.
BOEM’s EA considers potential impacts from the issuance of leases within the Humboldt WEA, which comprises nearly 132,369 acres (206.8 square miles) off the coast of Humboldt County, California, as depicted on the map below. The Humboldt WEA, if developed, could bring up to 1.6 GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power approximately 560,000 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 Humboldt 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. Next for the Humboldt WEA, BOEM will issue a Proposed Sale Notice for one or more areas to be auctioned and commence a public review and comment period. Based on comments received, BOEM may then issue a Final Sale Notice that sets the auction date, lease areas to be auctioned and the auction format.
The Outer Continental Shelf off the Pacific Coast is not subject to the upcoming offshore leasing moratorium provided for in former President Trump's September 2020 memorandum, which stated: “I hereby withdraw from disposition by leasing for 10 years, beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032: The portion of the area designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as the Mid Atlantic Planning Area that lies south of the northern administrative boundary of North Carolina” (the administrative boundary depicted on the Atlantic NAD 83 Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries map).
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 multi-year 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 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 construction could begin.
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