US BOEM Releases Final Environmental Review for Offshore Wind Area Off Northern California | Insights and Events

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On May 5, 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that it had completed an environmental assessment (EA) and issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the activities of offshore wind energy in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area (WEA) located 20 miles off northern California. BOEM initiated the environmental review on July 28, 2021 and released a draft EA on January 11, 2022, for public review and comment.

BOEM’s environmental assessment considers potential impacts from issuing leases within the Humboldt WEA, which comprises nearly 132,369 acres (206.8 square miles) off the coast of Humboldt County, California , as shown in the map below. The Humboldt WEA, if developed, could bring up to 1.6 GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power around 560,000 homes. The environmental assessment also considers the potential environmental consequences of site characterization activities (e.g. biological, archaeological, geological and geophysical studies), site assessment activities (e.g. installation of weather buoys) and project easements and related right-of-way grants for submarine cable corridors. in the Humboldt MEA.

If all goes according to plan, BOEM will hold its first competitive offshore wind lease auction this year for areas off the Pacific coast. Then, for the Humboldt WEA, BOEM will post a Notice of Proposed Sale for one or more areas to be auctioned and begin a public review and comment period. Based on the feedback received, BOEM may then issue a Final Sale Notice which sets the date of the auction, the rental areas to be auctioned and the format of the auction.

The outer continental shelf off the Pacific coast is not subject to the upcoming offshore lease moratorium set forth in former President Trump’s September 2020 memorandum, which stated: “I hereby withdraw from the provision by lease for 10 years, beginning July 1, 2022, and ending June 30, 2032: That portion of the area designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as the Mid-Atlantic Planning Area that lies south of the administrative boundary northern North Carolina” (the administrative boundary depicted on the Atlantic NAD 83 Federal Outer Map of the Administrative Boundaries of the Continental Shelf (OCS).

It is important to note that BOEM leases do not authorize any activity in the lease area, but rather grant the lessee the exclusive right to submit plans for BOEM’s review. The lease marks the start of a multi-year process, which provides additional opportunities for stakeholder engagement. A successful tenant will be required to submit a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) to BOEM within the first year of lease issuance, unless an extension is granted. The SAP describes the initial site assessment and characterization activities necessary to assess the siting of a project in the concession area for commercial offshore wind development and the potential impacts of these proposed activities. Only after approval of the SAP by BOEM can a tenant begin site assessment activities. A lessee will also be required to submit a Construction and Operation Plan (COP) for BOEM’s approval which details the onshore and offshore construction and operation of the wind power project. Based on the project-specific details in the COP, BOEM would then conduct additional environmental and technical reviews to decide if it could be approved, and construction could begin.

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