BOEM opened bidding for 80,000 acres of maritime acreage off the coast of Maryland. If no winner emerges, the agency said the auction would continue into Wednesday.
The Department of Energy says the area up for auction has the potential to support as much as 1,450 megawatts of wind energy, which could be enough to meet the annual demands of 300,000 homes.
The 16 companies cleared for the auction were determined by the federal government to have the legal, technical and financial qualifications to compete.
The federal government said the United States ranks second in the world with installed wind capacity, equal to about 4.5 percent of total consumer demand.
There have been five wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast, though no commercial offshore wind energy projects are in operation in the United States.
A Massachusetts project, Cape Wind, is close to receiving a loan guarantee from the federal government.