A New England company has successfully bid $3.8 million for the rights to develop offshore wind farms in nearly 165,000 acres of specially designated federal waters off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Deepwater Wind LLC of Providence said it plans to build up to 200 turbines capable of producing enough energy to power roughly 350,000 homes, with a transmission system linking Long Island, N.Y., to southeastern New England. Construction could begin as early as 2017.
“This is an enormous step forward for the industry,” said Deepwater Wind’s chief executive, Jeffrey Grybowski, whose company is also developing a 30-megawatt wind project in Rhode Island state waters off Block Island. “This is the best site for offshore wind in the United States, bar none.”
Wednesday’s auction — for two leases about 10.6 miles south of Rhode Island — was the first of its kind in the nation. Federal officials estimate the area could hold enough turbines to generate power for more than 1 million homes, more than double the number of homes Cape Wind would power at full capacity. Deepwater Wind, however, plans to develop only a portion of that potential.
The company will pay about $500,000 a year to the government until its wind farm is operational, and then it will pay a yearly royalty fee, determined by the value of the energy the project produces.
Turbines will be built far enough from the coast to be “virtually invisible” from the shoreline.
The issue of turbines spoiling views was a major point of contention in the controversy over Cape Wind’s turbines, which will be visible from shore.
The auctioning of preapproved areas of federal waters is an attempt by the government to spur development of offshore wind projects, which have previously gotten gummed up in the regulatory process.
The Department of the Interior has identified several areas for wind energy development in federal waters, including another giant swath nearly 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard that covers more than 826,000 acres. No leases are yet available for those waters — the size of which dwarfs Cape Wind — but several developers have expressed interest in building there.
Federal officials plan to auction a lease to build in waters off Virginia in September. There are also wind development areas designated in federal waters off New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.
“A lot of collaboration and thoughtful planning went in to getting to this point, and we’ll continue to employ that approach as we move forward up and down the coast to ensure that offshore wind energy is realized in the right ways in the right places,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement following Wednesday’s auction.
Jonathan Peress, director of clean energy and climate change at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group in Boston, called the auction a “harbinger of an exciting new era of development of renewable energy in the United States.”
“Offshore wind is New England’s most promising energy resource, and one we must pursue quickly and confidently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change,” he said in a statement.
The National Wildlife Federation said the auction is “real progress” toward goals set by the Obama administration aimed at increasing the amount of renewable energy.Erin Ailworth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.