The Interior Dept. and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management breathed new life into offshore wind-farm leases on Feb. 2 by decreeing that in-depth environmental reviews are not needed before leasing can begin off the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware. The announcement could shorten new offshore wind-farm construction by two years.

In a related move, on Feb. 3, BOEM put out a call for information and nominations to identify possible offshore wind locations off the Massachusetts coast.

The move came after a year-long environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act. The NEPA review found no significant environmental or socioeconomic impact from issuing wind-energy leases in designated areas in the federal mid-Atlantic waters. Environmental impact statements will be required for sites after a developer wins a lease and submits construction and operating plans.

Utilities, environmentalists and those in the offshore industry cheered the change.

Dominion Virginia Power is bullish about the government's call for interest in building wind turbines on 113,000 available for-lease acres, 24 miles off the coast of Virginia. "Dominion is actively involved today … and we will respond to this call for information," said Mary Dowell, senior vice president of alternative energy for Dominion.

The National Ocean Industries Association, typically aligned with oil and gas interests, also welcomed the development. "Our members are enthusiastic about the potential for offshore renewable energy," said NOIA President Randall Luthi.

But Dowell and other advocates warned that despite the federal government's announcement, offshore wind is a long-term proposition. Government projections put offshore wind generation costs in 2016 at about $243 MW/h, more than three times the cost of natural-gas combined-cycle generation.