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Legislators support bill that would enable US territories to build offshore windfarms

Mon 17 Sep 2018 by David Foxwell

Legislators support bill that would enable US territories to build offshore windfarms
Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who represents Guam, has proposed that US territories be enabled to build offshore windfarms

A bill has been proposed that would enable US territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and others to participate in the federal leasing programme and build offshore windfarms.

The House Committee on Natural Resources has unanimously passed the bill, that would amend federal law to authorise offshore wind energy development in the Exclusive Economic Zone adjacent to all five US territories. The Natural Resources Committee unanimously reported the bill to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill proposed by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who represents Guam, was supported by all of the members of Congress representing US territories – Representatives Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP), Stacey E Plaskett (D-VI) – and Representative Darren Soto (D-FL) from Florida. During a 26 June Subcommittee hearing, representatives of the offshore wind industry and the US Department of the Interior testified in support of the Congresswoman’s bill.

Current federal law in the form of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act precludes the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) from permitting offshore windfarms in federal waters off the coasts of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Island, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.

Responding to the mark-up of HR 6665, Offshore Wind for Territories Act, by the House Committee on Natural Resources, the National Ocean Industries Association’s vice president for government and political affairs, Tim Charters, issued the following statement.

Mr Charters said, “The inclusion of US territories in the federal leasing programme is long overdue. The Offshore Wind for Territories Act ensures that US territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam can strengthen their energy security through the development of local energy resources, while providing jobs and economic growth for their residents. NOIA commends Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and the House Natural Resources Committee for their leadership on this issue.

“The US should not forget about its citizens who reside in its territories. NOIA supports the inclusion of US territories in Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) by this bill and by the recent recommendations of the Royalty Policy Committee. HR 6665 deserves the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and NOIA hopes that both chambers consider, and pass, the bill by the end of the year.”

In a letter to the Committee on Natural Resources and Committee of Armed Services earlier this year, NOIA noted that Congress had previously considered, but failed to enact, legislation to expand the OCSLA to include the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) offshore the territories of the US. It said this change was supported by the Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations.

“We encourage you to take this action as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. By doing so, Congress would provide a statutory structure for the management of the renewable and traditional energy and mineral resources that are not currently covered by existing law,” NOIA said.

“Unfortunately, the territories have been neglected in this regard because no federal agency actually has the authority for overseeing energy, including renewable energy, and mineral development in the EEZ offshore.

“In addition, the Federal Government is unable to evaluate potential resources in conjunction with the Territorial Governments for potential resources until OCSLA is extended to these areas.

“Clarifying the Secretary of the Interior’s authority and responsibility under OCSLA will provide the support and opportunity for a comprehensive process for planning and developing any conventional energy, renewable energy and mineral resources in co-ordination with the territories. This will support America’s military mission both in providing energy security to our nation but additionally by providing additional potential energy resource sources to military facilities and operations in our nation's territories.

“America's offshore energy industries are ready to increase our contribution to national security,” said NOIA, highlighting the fact that offshore wind can potentially provide significant investment and alternative energy security to American bases in Guam, American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

It said this private investment can only be made possible through sound public planning by the Department of the Interior in conjunction with the Territorial Governments and interested partners.

“We hope that you will consider these changes and help America’s offshore industries bring jobs, investment and energy security to the process of building a better more secure tomorrow for the United States and our territories,” NOIA said.

Congresswoman Bordallo’s Offshore Wind for Territories Act would authorise offshore wind energy devolvement in federal waters off the coasts of the US territories and their respective EEZs but exclude the de facto ‘state waters’ ceded by Congress to Guam and the other territories, which will remain under exclusive territorial jurisdiction (extending 3 nautical miles seaward).

The bill would also guarantee each US territory a state-equivalent share of any federal royalties collected for offshore wind or similar development in federal waters off their coasts, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at some US$20M and dedicate a portion of federal royalties for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Programme, providing dedicated federal funding for coral reef conservation, research, and projects in US territories and nationwide, at no additional cost to American taxpayers.

The bill would also direct BOEM to complete a study on the technological and economic feasibility of offshore wind energy development in all the territories, in consultation with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and mandate federal consultation with territorial Governors prior to any offshore wind lease sales in federal waters adjacent, regarding suitability of windfarm sites.

“I am thrilled that my Offshore Wind for Territories Act unanimously passed the Committee. Offshore wind could replace our reliance on costly foreign petroleum imports with renewable, locally produced electricity while saving residents money on their electricity bills,” said the Congresswoman. “Our island could be a true leader in offshore wind. Offshore wind industry leaders are very interested in Guam, and my bill clears the way for this exciting economic opportunity to come to our island.”

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