Northeast offshore wind farms get boost from Obama administration

By Brien Southward

Offshore wind turbines are increasingly common in Europe but have yet to take off in AmericaAs part of a larger push towards investment in
renewable energy initiatives, federal officials are looking to speed up the approval and review processes of offshore wind projects. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Thursday that renewable energy efforts in America have been strengthened by the recent completion of a review that showed that offshore wind turbine projects along the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia would have cause no significant environmental damage.

An offshore wind developer official told the Associated Press that it usually takes five years between a developer saying they want to lease a site and the turbines being installed. If the Obama Administration is successful, that timespan could be shortened. Up to two years could be shaved off the review process, according to Jim Lanard, president of the OffShore Wind Development Coalition. Each individual wind project will still be subject to review and approval, but if the Administration is successful, the other legal and procedural barriers might be significantly easier to overcome.

Michele Siekerka, Assistant Commissioner of Economic Growth and Green Energy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said it will speed up the building of offshore turbines by a year or more. Eleven developers that have submitted proposals are expected to be able to bid on sites later this year. They will still have to provide environmental reviews, but they could be producing power by 2016 or 2017, according to Sierka. If all eleven proposed projects were to be up and running, their combined output could produce as much as 12,000 megawatts.

Although there are plenty of offshore wind farms powering Europe, so far there have been no big projects in the United States. The current likeliest project is the Cape Wind project off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, which may finally begin construction next year after a ten-year legal battle. NRG Energy had previously been a frontrunner, but was unable to find a financial partner in time and had to cancel a power purchase agreement in December.

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