Salazar throws offshore wind construction into overdrive

Interior announces plan to speed up Atlantic wind projects
Six year regulatory process may take as little as six months in future

"Offshore wind power is coming to U.S. waters and the Obama administration is helping to get it here faster, and smart from the start. This new initiative will help our country get serious about building clean, homegrown energy off our shores, and allow us to compete in the global market for offshore wind power. With this comes green jobs, less regulatory red tape, and better environmental protection."
     - Brandi Colander, NRDC.

Secretary Ken Salazar of the Interior Department announced today a new, faster and simplified strategy to speed up wind energy projects along the Atlantic coast.

Salazar and developers of the nation's first offshore wind farm signed a lease last month launching the 130-turbine Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast, following an eight-year federal review.

The "Smart from the Start" initiative would identify priority Wind Energy Areas along the Eastern seaboard where leases would be accelerated and issued next year and in 2012.

The department will work with governors in 11 east coast states to identify those areas in the next two months. Currently, the wind energy leasing process is estimated to take more than six years.

The department is also proposing to revise regulations to eliminate redundant steps when there is only one qualified developer, which officials said would save between six months and a year in the process.

Following the Interior Department's announcement today of a plan to fast-track offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast - this on the heels of yesterday's news that Massachusetts made more progress toward getting the nation's first offshore wind farm off the ground.

NRDC: Obama Administration paves way for Atlantic Offshore Wind Power

The National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) said today that on the heels of yesterday’s good news about progress for offshore wind energy in Massachusetts, today the Obama Administration announced a major new initiative to accelerate the development of clean, offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast.

The NRDC said that Interior Department, (DOI), Governor O’Malley of Maryland and the President of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, Jim Lanard, made this encouraging announcement for renewable energy in America today.

"The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America's renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation's vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough and unburdened by needless red tape." - Ken Salazar, DOI.

The primary announcement - over the next 60 days the administration will identify wind energy areas, (WEA), that are most promising for potential offshore wind development. They have been working with many eastern states, state-based task forces and stakeholders to determine these areas and identify what they believe will be the best places for siting this renewable energy source. In the following six months, DOI will reach out to “sister agencies” with information about ocean based renewable energy development to gain additional information on specific areas to confirm the previously identified locations. They will work with NOAA, DOD, EPA, the Coastguard and other relevant agencies to move this process forward. As a result of this new initiative, when lease sales are reviewed, investors and others will have more solid information to proceed with a full environmental impact statement prior to approving any project. Additionally, more attention will be given to any transmission applications which may assist in making sound decisions from a business and permitting perspective on advancing offshore wind in America.

The second portion of the announcement included the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s current review of a final rule change designed to streamline a lack of competition provision, granting a green light to candidates and collapsing the current rule into a single opportunity to identify whether there is in fact competition for a proposed site. This rule is in final stages of review and the administration will provide additional details but hopes that this change will clarify the existing offshore wind permitting process.

The federal government’s announcement today is an acknowledgement and step forward for this promising source of clean, renewable energy to grow and compete with other sources of fuel. Furthermore, this initiative provides the United States with an opportunity to begin to compete with other nations that have eagerly pursued offshore wind. The first offshore wind farm was installed in 1991 in Denmark and, although small in scale, their current 2000 MW, and growing, of offshore wind confirms that this is a reliable source of renewable energy and the U.S. is getting closer to reaping those benefits firsthand.

Currently, the process for getting offshore wind power off the ground in this country is far too long, with a projected timeline of 7-9 years for domestic wind leasing, which is far longer than the typical siting process for a coal-fired power plant.  The focus of yesterday’s announcement – Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound, heavily anticipated as the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm – is a perfect example. Already a decade in the making, just yesterday Massachusetts approved its agreement to sell half of its power to the National Grid, once its turbines are built and spinning. While this is a tremendous feat for offshore wind in America, we must expedite the timeline for similar projects in the future if we want to get serious about advancing this promising source of renewable technology in America.

We can – and should – significantly accelerate the timeline for these projects while still building them in a way which always protects the environment, including oceans ecosystems..a responsible manner. By careful environmental review and by planning where and how to build these projects ahead of time – using a process called “marine spatial planning” that President Obama endorsed this summer when he announced a landmark National Ocean Policy – we can build the clean energy sources in an environmentally sound way.  That means carefully locating sites for offshore wind projects based on where wind resources are strong, where conflicts with important ocean habitats are minimized, and where they can connect to the electric grid so that we can benefit from the power generated. The marine spatial planning process helps us to do this in a way that will help us get offshore wind off the ground safer and sooner than in the past. 

We’ll be carefully reviewing the details of DOI’s new proposal moving forward and sharing our specific thoughts on it.  We’re optimistic that we can move more quickly and nimbly toward development of our offshore wind resources while engaging in thorough environmental review.

Atlantic wind provides the resource and opportunity enabling us to move to a clean energy economy in a major way. Today’s announcement confirms this opportunity and illustrates the need to be “smart from the start” in shaping offshore renewables policies here in America.  NRDC looks forward to continuing to play a role in ensuring the responsible development of offshore wind in America.

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