U.S. Schedules First Competitive Offshore-Wind-Lease Auction for July 31 .
June 4, 2013, 4:16 p.m. ET
By Ryan Tracy
WASHINGTON--The U.S. Interior Department on Tuesday set a date next month for the first-ever competitive auction of federal acreage to offshore-wind developers, taking another stride toward permitting wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean.
The department said it would hold a lease sale on July 31 for 164,750 acres off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Nine companies have previously expressed interest, including France's Electricite de France SA (EDF.FR) and Spain's Iberdrola SA (IBDRY, IBE.MC).
There are no large offshore wind farms currently operating in the U.S., though a team led by the University of Maine recently launched a prototype floating turbine.
"This is history in the making," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a statement accompanying Tuesday's announcement. "As we experience record domestic oil and gas development, we are also working to ensure that America leads the world in developing the energy of the future."
Ms. Jewell's department found that issuing the wind leases "would have no significant impact on the environment" after a review that took nearly two years and ended up excluding a swath of "high value fishing grounds."
Even with the trimmed-down acreage, the lease area could produce enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes, the department said.
Developers are still a long way from building wind farms that could harness that energy. The winning bidders at the July auction will have to first construct towers to measure wind speeds in the area. Then they will have to clear another federal environmental review and find customers for the new power plant, which is likely to cost more up-front than power plants that run on natural gas.
"It will really be up to industry to decide the time frame" on which offshore wind projects get built, Ms. Jewell said on a conference call with reporters Monday