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Apr 3 -- We, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), are extending the public comment period on our notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Renewable Energy Modernization Rule” by 30 days. With this notice, we are extending the public comment period on the NPRM from March 31, 2023, to May 1, 2023.

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-06924
 
Jan 30 -- The first Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) renewable energy regulations were promulgated in 2009 by BOEM's predecessor, the Minerals Management Service (MMS). BOEM's renewable energy program has matured over the past 13 years, during which time BOEM conducted eleven auctions and issued and managed 27 active commercial leases. Based on this experience, the Department has identified opportunities to modernize its regulations to facilitate the development of offshore wind energy resources to meet U.S. climate and renewable energy objectives. This proposed rule contains reforms identified by the Department and recommended by industry since 2010, including proposals for incremental funding of decommissioning accounts; more flexible geophysical and geotechnical survey submission requirements; streamlined approval of meteorological (met) buoys; revised project verification procedures; reform of BOEM's renewable energy auction process; and greater clarity regarding safety requirements. This proposed rule would advance the Department of the Interior's (DOI) energy policies in a safe and environmentally sound manner that would provide a fair return to the U.S. taxpayer.

Submit comments regarding the substance of this proposed rule to BOEM on or before March 31, 2023. Submit comments regarding the information collection burden of this proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to BOEM on or before March 1, 2023.

This proposed rule would facilitate the development of OCS renewable energy and would promote U.S. climate and renewable energy objectives in a safe and environmentally sound manner while providing a fair return to the U.S. taxpayer. These important goals would be accomplished by modernizing regulations, streamlining overly complex and burdensome processes, clarifying ambiguous provisions, enhancing compliance provisions, and correcting technical errors and inconsistencies. Through these changes, the Department aims to reduce administrative burdens for both developers and the Department's staff, reduce developer costs and uncertainty, and introduce greater regulatory flexibility in a rapidly changing industry to foster the supply of OCS renewable energy to meet increasing demand, while maintaining environmental safeguards. This proposed rule is a major modernization of the regulations, reflects lessons learned from the past 13 years, and is projected to save the renewable energy industry $1 billion over 20 years. These updates are necessary to ensure a durable and appropriate process is in place to advance renewable energy on the OCS.

The proposed rule contains eight major components:

1. Eliminating unnecessary requirements for the deployment of meteorological (met) buoys.

BOEM requires a site assessment plan (SAP) for data collection activities that measure met conditions and that aid the siting and design of an offshore renewable energy project. Such activities include the use of met towers and buoys. BOEM first formulated the SAP requirement in 2009, when the offshore wind industry gathered meteorological data primarily from towers fixed in place by foundations pile-driven into the seafloor. The industry has since transitioned to buoys anchored to the seafloor that gather the same data at lower cost and with less environmental impact.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permits scientific measurement devices used for a variety of purposes deployed in U.S. navigable waters and on the OCS, including met towers and met buoys. The USACE permitting process is tailored to buoys and is subject to the same Federal environmental laws as BOEM's SAP process. BOEM's existing SAP process is well suited for the complexities involved with installing met towers but has proven to be unreasonably burdensome for simply anchoring met buoys on the seafloor and redundant with USACE's process.

This proposed rule would eliminate both the SAP requirement for met buoys and the limited lease requirement for installing off-lease met towers and met buoys. Off-lease met towers and met buoys would continue to require USACE permits, given that agency's jurisdiction over obstructions deployed in U.S. navigable waters under section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.

2. Increasing survey flexibility.

Before constructing an offshore renewable energy project, lessees and grant holders must conduct geotechnical, geophysical, and archaeological surveys. The primary purposes of these surveys are to ensure the site is suitable for construction, avoid seafloor hazards, and identify historic and cultural resources. Currently, BOEM requires detailed geotechnical survey data for each proposed wind turbine location in the construction and operations plan (COP) submitted by the lessee before project construction is authorized. However, the Department has learned that the precise location of each wind turbine may be uncertain at the COP submittal stage, and geotechnical data collected primarily for engineering purposes are more relevant to the review process after COP approval. Consequently, lessees have requested permission to submit geotechnical data for each turbine location after COP approval, but before construction.

This proposed rule would defer certain geotechnical survey requirements, such as engineering site-specific surveys (e.g., boreholes, vibracores, grab samplers, cone penetrometer tests and other penetrative methods). This proposed change would allow more time to complete the required surveys and would provide greater flexibility in designing projects. BOEM's guidelines for geotechnical surveys are available online.

3. Improving the project design and installation verification process.

A certified verification agent (CVA) provides independent third-party review of a project's design, fabrication, and installation. The proposed rule would expand the CVA's role to include verification of the design and commissioning of the critical safety systems to assist the Department in meeting requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCS Lands Act; 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq.), and its implementing regulations at 30 CFR 585.102(a), to ensure that any activities authorized by BOEM are carried out safely. BOEM's regulations require CVAs to “certify” projects, but CVAs have informed BOEM that the proper industry standard is “verification.” This proposed rule would change the regulatory language defining the CVA's role from “certify” and “certification” to “verify” and “verification.” This proposed change likely would encourage additional firms to participate in offshore renewable energy projects as CVAs. Industry also has suggested changes that would enable BOEM to approve CVA nominations before COP submittal and would allow separate facility design reports (FDRs) and fabrication and installation reports (FIRs) for major project components. These changes would encourage developers to seek CVA review throughout their project design process and would permit the use of specialized CVAs to verify specific project components.

4. Establishing a Public Renewable Energy Leasing Schedule.

This proposed rule would introduce a new commitment by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to publish a schedule of anticipated lease sales that BOEM intends to hold in the subsequent 5 years. This provision is intended to provide advance notice to stakeholders of areas being considered for future lease sales. The proposed schedule for leasing would provide increased certainty and enhanced transparency. This is intended to facilitate planning by industry, the States, and other stakeholders. Comments on the timing and scope of a scheduled lease sale can be made during the public comment opportunities afforded by BOEM during the planning process for each particular lease sale scheduled (e.g., Request for Interest, Call for Information and Nominations, etc.). The proposed schedule would be updated at least once every 2 years to reflect any changes. This proposed schedule would include a general description of the area of each proposed lease sale, the anticipated quarter of each sale, and reasons for changes made to the previously issued leasing schedule, if any.

5. Reforming BOEM's renewable energy auction regulations.

In response to lessons learned from eleven auctions, BOEM proposes to reorganize and clarify its pre- and post-auction procedures. These changes would also address the use of bidding credits, deter potential bidder collusion, and more clearly outline auction processes and requirements. They also would specify actions to be taken if a provisional winner fails to meet its obligations, or if an existing lease is relinquished, contracted, or cancelled. The proposed rule would preserve the option to use multiple factor auctions.

6. Tailoring financial assurance requirements and instruments.

BOEM requires financial assurances from lessees and grant holders to protect the U.S. taxpayer against potential liabilities arising from any default on lessee or grant holder regulatory obligations. The proposed rule would tailor the financial assurance requirements to better align those requirements with actual risk by allowing incremental funding of decommissioning accounts in accordance with a BOEM-approved schedule during the lease term and by expanding the acceptable categories of financial assurance instruments.

7. Clarifying safety management system regulations.

The proposed rule would clarify the information requirements for safety management systems and would add two safety reporting requirements. The proposed rule would incentivize lessees and grant holders to obtain a safety management certification from an accredited conformity assessment body (CAB) as a means to reduce the frequency and intensity of regulatory oversight activities.

8. Revising other provisions and making technical corrections.

The proposed rule contains numerous additional provisions that do not fit within the categories described above. The most significant of these provisions would: restructure commercial lease terms into four periods tied to activities required to develop the lease; explicitly allow regulatory departures before and after a lease or grant is issued or made; authorize civil penalties without either notice or a time period for corrective action when violations cause or threaten to cause serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage; add specific procedures regarding lease segregation and consolidation; and standardize the annual rental rate per acre across most grants. The proposed rule would correct technical errors in the existing regulations and would make corrections to ensure consistency between the proposed changes and existing practice.

The Department has authority to promulgate OCS renewable energy regulations under the OCS Lands Act. The proposed rule would be consistent with and would advance DOI's energy policies as outlined in various executive orders.
 
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-00668 [85 pages]
Feb 6 -- Correction FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-02398

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