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NREL Analysis Enables BOEM to Hold Its First Commercial Offshore Lease Sale in the United States

December 2, 2013

Photo showing three 5-megawatt wind turbines installed above the water at the Alpha Ventus Offshore Wind Farm in Germany. A boat is moving forward to the left of the turbines.

REpower 5-megawatt wind turbines at the Alpha Ventus Offshore Wind Farm in Germany demonstrate the possibilities for offshore wind on a grand scale—and now new offshore wind opportunities are coming to the United States. Photo by Gary Norton, NREL 27363

When the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) needed a process to delineate the bureau’s proposed offshore Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) into auctionable leasing areas, the agency turned to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Under an interagency agreement, wind energy experts from NREL helped develop a process to evaluate BOEM’s designated offshore WEAs in terms of energy production, resource, water depth, and other physical criteria and delineate specific WEAs into two or more leasing areas.

NREL’s extensive analysis and input helped inform BOEM’s first lease sale for commercial offshore development in the United States. Deepwater Wind New England, LLC was selected as the provisional winner after submitting a bid of $3.8 million for two wind energy sites off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The sites have the potential to support 3,395 megawatts (MW) of wind generation. This inaugural sale marked the latest advance in pursuit of American offshore wind energy, which can make a significant contribution to the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and call for action on climate change.

BOEM has been working since 2009 with intergovernmental task forces to identify areas that appear to be suitable for domestic offshore wind development. When it appeared that certain WEAs could support more than one leasing area, BOEM asked NREL to develop a process for delineating these separate leasing areas for auction.

To accomplish the goals under the interagency agreement, NREL developed a process by which the WEAs could be subdivided into non-overlapping leasing areas; delineated the boundaries of these potential lease areas; and documented the methodology used to identify and delineate the lease areas for each state with a published report. NREL was asked to study four WEAs: Massachusetts/Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. As part of its study, NREL considered factors such as water depth, maximum development capacity, and meteorological information, such as wind speed, potential wind wake effects, and other factors. NREL then used the OpenWind Enterprise tool developed by AWS Truepower to apply the layouts to delineation strategies for evaluation and comparison. Read about the details and results of the studies in the published reports for each area: Analysis of Offshore Wind Energy Leasing Areas for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, Assessment of Offshore Wind Energy Leasing Areas for the BOEM Maryland Wind Energy Area, and Assessment of Offshore Wind Energy Leasing Areas for the BOEM New Jersey Wind Energy Area. The Massachusetts report is forthcoming.