US government officials on Wednesday began an auction to sell 164,750 acres of federally designated waters off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island for commercial wind energy development.
The sale — for two leases — is the first of its kind in the nation, and the process could spill over into Thursday. By the fourth round of bidding, two bidders were vying for the first lease, offering $535,071 for the expanse, which covers 97,500 acres; meanwhile, one bidder was offering $94,153 for the second lease covering 67,250 acres.
Officials at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Department of the Interior, are expected to provide regular updates, with a winner and participants revealed once the auction closes.
The Department of the Interior has identified several areas for wind energy development within federal waters, including a another giant swath about 14 miles off Martha’s Vineyard that extends over 1,160 square miles. No leases are yet available for those waters — which could hold enough turbines to produce 10 times the amount of energy expected from Cape Wind — but several developers have already expressed interest in building there.
The are also areas designated in federal waters off New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.
Jonathan Peress, director of clean energy and climate change at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group in Boston, called Wednesday’s auction a “harbinger of an exciting new era of development of renewable energy in the United States.’’
“Offshore wind is New England’s most promising energy resource, and one we must pursue quickly and confidence to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change,’’ he said in a statement issued by the Foundation.
The National Wildlife Federation, in an email, said the auction was also “real progress’’ toward climate goals set by the Obama administration aimed at increasing the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy resources.