Accelerating the approval process for offshore wind development

Accelerating the approval process for offshore wind development
Mar 29, 2024
3 MIN. READ

How developers can keep the federal permitting process on track and on schedule

In the U.S., offshore wind projects must receive permits and approvals from the federal government and any states affected by the project. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is the lead federal agency for permitting offshore wind projects. BOEM coordinates and consults with stakeholders, states, and other federal agencies responsible for natural and cultural resources. In addition to BOEM’s federal permitting process, projects must also receive permits under any applicable state laws and regulations, which often include water quality certificates, coastal zone management act approvals, and state-specific environmental policy act approvals.

During the site assessment phase, the project developer, in coordination with BOEM, gathers information, completes site surveys, and conducts stakeholder and resource agency outreach required to prepare a construction and operations plan (COP) that must be submitted to BOEM at least six months before the end of the site assessment phase. BOEM then reviews information in the COP to evaluate the potential environmental, social, and socioeconomic impacts of the proposed project and prepares an environmental impact statement (EIS) to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Typically, a third-party is contracted by the developer to support BOEM for the NEPA process. ICF has completed or is currently working on 10 of these third-party projects with BOEM, plus two programmatic EISs for the New York Bight and California, and several NEPA Environmental Assessments for leasing. BOEM’s process from COP submittal to the Final EIS and Record of Decision is depicted below.

Keeping the NEPA process on schedule

Keeping the permitting process efficient and on schedule is of paramount importance for meeting federal and state climate goals, and to maintaining the financial viability of offshore wind power generation development. The federal government has instituted several initiatives to increase coordination, transparency, and accountability in the federal permitting process. One lead federal agency is identified to coordinate with participating federal agencies and prepare a single environmental document—for offshore wind projects this is an EIS document prepared by BOEM.

Project developers can choose to participate in the FAST-41 program administered by the Permitting Council (formerly FIPSC) which maintains a comprehensive, integrated federal permitting schedule that is publicly available on an online dashboard. The timeline to complete an EIS and a Record of Decision (ROD) is two years from BOEM publishing the Notice of Intent (NOI). The NOI triggers a NEPA schedule starting with the “scoping” phase, which involves a public comment period and public meetings.

7 ways developers can keep the NEPA process on track

From our experience supporting BOEM to complete NEPA reviews, we have noted some of the ways developers can help keep the NEPA process on track and on schedule.

1. Engage early with state and federal agencies and be proactive during COP preparation in discussing engineering and design details. Use feedback to anticipate key issues of concern and factor them into the project design where practicable.

2. Maintain flexibility in your project design envelope to accommodate technological advancement but narrow it down as much as practical.

3. Provide early justification on why some design changes are not technically or economically feasible.

4. Develop meaningful mitigation early for each historic property that could be adversely affected.

5. Ensure the third-party EIS contract is in place before you submit the COP. This will allow the contractor to assist BOEM in reviewing the COP for sufficiency and to begin consulting with other agencies.

6. Align COP content with the USACE and EPA air permit submittals and engage early with these agencies.

7. Plan to have the Letter of Authorization application deemed complete by NMFS concurrent with publication of the Draft EIS.

Partnering for success

Offshore wind generation projects play a crucial role in the transition to net-zero emissions, and successful development requires a nuanced understanding of the federal permitting process. Following these best practices can accelerate the approval process for offshore wind development while avoiding common snags and pitfalls that can hamper progress. ICF brings decades of experience in energy markets and transmission analyses, NEPA documentation for major infrastructure projects, and support for federal agencies and energy developers to ensure offshore wind development project success.

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Meet the authors
  1. Erin Healy, Offshore Wind Program Director
  2. Elizabeth Diller, Vice President, Energy Lead

    Elizabeth has over two decades of experience partnering with clients to provide National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance strategies. View bio

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