Updated February 26 at 12:37pm

Salazar announces streamlined permit process for offshore wind farms


NEW YORK - The United States will move faster to approve wind-power farms off the Atlantic Coast in an effort to attract investors and jump-start offshore renewable energy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday.

Regulators will identify promising areas for wind development and try to resolve potential conflicts with states and federal agencies over issues such as shipping lanes before leases are offered, Salazar said. Under the initiative, new leases may be issued late next year or early in 2012, he said.

The new initiative could hold implications for Deepwater Wind, a developer looking to build a wind farm in federal waters 15 miles off mainland Rhode Island after completing one in state waters off Block Island.

Providence-based Deepwater Wind has been concentrating on starting its Block Island project, which is less entwined with federal regulations than its proposed larger project. Still, executives Tuesday hailed Salazar’s announcement.

“We are hopeful that today's announcement will shorten the permitting timeframe and provide for greater certainty in the process, as both steps are necessary in the near-term for realizing a clean energy future," Jeffrey Grybowski, Deepwater Wind’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement to Providence Business News.

It took the federal government almost a decade before to grant approval in April to Cape Wind to move forward with a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. State regulators approved Monday a contract permitting the project to sell electricity from its 130 turbines but opponents have vowed to appeal.

“Wind potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering,” Salazar said during an appearance in Baltimore. “There is, I think, a singular, unique opportunity to do something that’s major to take care of the power needs of America.”

The federal government controls the Outer Continental Shelf off the Atlantic Coast, a region that theoretically could provide more than 1,000 gigawatts, enough to power 800 million typical homes, Salazar said.

The United States generates more power from wind than any nation, all from turbines on land, according to the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association. In October, Google Inc., the Web company that a decade ago used engineering prowess to become the leader in online advertising, said it’s investing in a $5 billion underwater network that can channel electricity from wind turbines scattered off the Atlantic coast.

Environment, Economy

“As the pipeline of projects begin to move forward more rapidly, the environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind, including manufacturing facilities and associated jobs, can be realized,” Denise Bode, CEO of the wind-energy association, said in an interview. Tuesday’s announcement will help speed permits for wind turbines and “level the playing field” with other forms of offshore energy production, she said.

NRG Bluewater, a unit of NRG Energy Inc., is developing wind projects off the coasts of New York, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. Its Delaware project in 2008 won a 25-year contract to supply as much as 200 megawatts of power to a unit of Pepco Holdings Inc.

‘Steel in the Water’

“We’re pleased with the announcement to move forward with offshore wind and to streamline the permitting process,” Peter Mandelstam, founder and president of NRG Bluewater, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “This helps get steel in the water.”

Over the next 60 days, the Interior Department will identify “wind energy zones” said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes. In the following six months, regulators will gather information from states, federal agencies such as the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration and environmental groups to help determine which areas may be developed.

“We will have at the end of six months, we believe, an unprecedented amount of information that we can then provide to the investing public,” Hayes said. “At that point, we will say, ‘Who wants to come and lease in these areas?’”

The department said in a news release that it hoped to work with state partners to identify such zones in Rhode Island within the next 60 days.

In January 2011, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Interior Department unit that oversees offshore energy production, will conduct an environmental assessment of potential impacts of the sites targeted for development. If no significant effects are found, leases will be offered by the end of 2011.

“People need jobs and energy,” Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, a Washington-based environmental group, said in a statement. “Ocean wind power, unlike ocean oil drilling, is a great way to do both.”


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