Interior to Expedite Atlantic Coast Offshore Windfarm

Yesterday, the Department of Interior gave the go-ahead for a plan to make a lease sale available by the end of 2012 for commercial-scale wind farms off the Mid-Atlantic coast.The approval by the Obama Administration would forego the need for a formal Environmental Impact Statement, and may shave two years off the permitting process according to the Offshore Wind Development Coalition

The announcement, made by Secretary Ken Salazar, found "no significant impact" to the environment form issuing leases and it allows developers the ability to test the suitability of coastal areas that may be economically viable for wind turbines. Under the plan, the Department of Interior would target the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The news was cheered by the Governors of the region that have long sought for ways to harness the tremendous potential of offshore wind resources. Estimates by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the US offshore wind energy could generate up to 4,150 gigawatts of power or roughly four times the amount of all electricity produced domestically in 2008. 

Currently, the US generates about 3 percent of its power from land-based wind turbines. Only one offshore lease has been  officially developed - the politically contentious Cape Wind Project near Nantucket Sound that originally drew objections and litigation by local communities, business groups, and politicians from Massachusetts. Under the terms of that lease, the federal government would receive $88,000 in annual rent and 2%-7% of electricity sales. 

Secretary Salazar stated the announcement was part of the Administration's effort to speed up the regulatory review of siting and leasing activities for renewable energy projects. He noted that the Department learned from the Cape Wind experience and that "No developer should have to wait nine or 10 years," for approval. Companies must still do individual environmental assessments for specific projects, but state regulators and industry sources suggested that the Administration's decision would likely allow projects to come online by 2016 or 2017.