The federal government will lease nearly 165,000 acres off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and Rhode Island next month for wind power development, in the first such auction on the US outer continental shelf, officials said Tuesday.
The Department of the Interior said in a statement that nine companies, including the developer of the controversial Cape Wind project, will be eligible to participate in the auction. It is scheduled to begin in phases on July 29 and 31.
“This is history in the making as we mark yet another major milestone in the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in the statement.
“We are moving closer to tapping into the enormous potential offered by offshore wind to create jobs, increase our sustainability, and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier.”
The Interior Department says that the areas up for lease could support enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes, the statement said. That area covers about 164,750 acres and is located 9.2 nautical miles south of the Rhode Island coastline, according to the statement.
Two 25-year leases, one for about 97,500 acres and the other for roughly 67,250 acres, are going up for bid, officials said.
After the bidding process, lease holders will have six months to submit a site assessment plan to the federal government and then an additional 4½ years to offer a construction and operation plan.
US Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat and vocal backer of wind energy, welcomed the news.
“Offshore wind is a win for American jobs, for American energy security, and for our environment, and it will start off the coast of New England,” Markey said in a statement.
“With lease sales in federal waters, offshore wind will also be a boon for US taxpayers. I commend the Interior Department for working closely with the states, tribes, fishermen, commercial shippers, and the environmental community to establish these low-conflict areas and for conducting these lease sales in a way that will ensure leases go to companies that are serious about developing new wind energy.”
Gabriel E. Gomez, Markey’s Republican opponent in the upcoming US Senate election, did not respond to a request for comment on the auction.
Not everyone shares Markey’s positive view of wind power. In a blog entry last year on the website of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., energy consultant Jonathan Lesser discussed a report that he had recently published on tax credits for wind power.
“I analyzed four years’ of hourly production and load data and found that wind generation followed an uneconomic pattern, producing the most electricity when least needed and the least electricity when demand and market prices were highest.”
One company eligible to bid in next month’s auction is Energy Management Inc., the developer of Cape Wind, a planned wind farm of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound.
That project, which critics say will create a slew of problems for the sound, is slated for a separate area from the zone up for auction.
Audra Parker — head of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group opposed to Cape Wind — said in an e-mail that Energy Management’s interest in the upcoming auction shows there are alternative sites for Cape Wind, as her group maintains.
Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind spokesman, said in response that the planned site for the project is the best area for offshore wind in the country and that the “other offshore wind sites being pursued” are about exploring the future of the industry in deeper waters farther from shore.
He said Cape Wind, which has completed its US and state permitting, is in the financing stage and working with the Bank of Tokyo and Barclays.
Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@