Obama administration announces plans to accelerate offshore wind energy development

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu were in Norfolk Monday to announce plans to accelerate offshore wind energy development in the U.S.

The plan includes $50.5 million to boost offshore wind energy development in several “wind energy areas” off the U.S. coast. The administration has designated four of these areas in Mid-Atlantic — which are prime for wind development — that will receive early environmental reviews to reduce time for review, lease and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities. They include hundreds of square miles off of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia coasts.

The official plan, A National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States, addresses overcoming three challenges to offshore wind energy development in the U.S. These include: the high cost of offshore wind energy, the technical challenges of installation, operations, and grid interconnection, and the lack of site data and inexperience with permitting.

The plan identifies a scenario where U.S. offshore wind energy development would have a 10 gigawatt capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030. This includes development in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf coasts and Great Lakes and Hawaiian waters.

The Department of Energy is releasing solicitations to help companies develop wind energy technology in the U.S. The strategy includes:
- Up to $25 million over five years to support development of innovative wind turbine design tools and hardware to create a competitive offshore wind industry in the U.S.
- Up to $18 million over three years for student and environmental research to characterize key factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind.
- Up to $7.5 million over three years for development and refinement of designs for drivetrains, a technology important in creating cost-effective wind power.

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement will prepare environmental assessments of the energy areas. If no significant impacts are found, leases could be offered off Mid-Atlantic areas as early as late 2011 or early 2012.

The Department of the Interior expects to identify additional “wind energy areas” off North Atlantic states in March.

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