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Offshore-Wind Permits to Be Streamlined by U.S.

Ken Salazar, U.S. interior secretary
Ken Salazar, U.S. interior secretary. Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg

The U.S. 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.

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 today. Under the initiative, new leases may be issued late next year or early in 2012, he said.

It took the federal government almost a decade before granting approval in April to Cape Wind off the coast of Massachusetts, the first wind farm in U.S. waters. State regulators approved yesterday a contract permitting the project to sell electricity from its 130 turbines.

“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 U.S. 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, chief executive officer of the wind-energy association, said in an interview. Today’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, New Jersey and Rhode Island. 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 today 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 6 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?’”

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, chief executive officer 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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