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Mass., RI wind area closer to development

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 8:15 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012

BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. government said Monday it has completed an environmental assessment that will guide construction of wind projects in a swath of federal waters off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with the hope of offering leases to developers by the end of next year.

The study is intended to simplify the leasing process for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, which comprises more than 164,000 acres in an area roughly 11 miles south of Martha's Vineyard and 13 miles east of Block Island. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated the area an ideal place for power generation.

The assessment "sets the stage for moving forward aggressively with competitive lease sales in this area," said Tommy Beaudreau, director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Already, eight companies have expressed interest in leases offshore Massachusetts and Rhode Island, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters in a conference call Monday. The companies include Deepwater Wind New England LLC, Energy Management Inc., enXco, Fishermen's Energy LLC, Iberdrola Renewables Inc., Mainstream Renewable Power, Neptune Wind LLC and US Wind Inc.

Interested parties including representatives from the fishing industry, cultural organizations and tribes will now have 30 days to make public comment on the assessment's findings. The bureau will host public informational sessions on July 16 and 17.

Regulators originally had proposed opening up a larger area, but certain "high value" fishing grounds were cut out following objections from commercial fishermen who said their businesses would be affected by fields of turbines.

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