Administration announces plan for fast-tracking offshore wind energy projects, releases $50 million for R&D
After it took over eight years of rhetoric, wrangling and regulating to approve Cape Wind, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., the Obama administration wants to make sure permitting delays like those will never happen again. On Monday, two members of the Obama cabinet announced an offshore wind energy strategy that includes unleashing more than fifty million dollars for offshore wind energy research as well as a plan to fast-track approval of wind farms in wind energy zones.
The National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States (pdf) unveiled by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu today in a joint press conference in Norfolk, Virginia, focuses on overcoming three key challenges: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; technical challenges surrounding installation, operations, and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting.
"Through the Strategic Work Plan, the United States is synchronizing new research and development initiatives with more efficient, forward-thinking planning so that we can help quickly stand up an American offshore wind industry," said Interior Secretary Salazar.
And in an effort to immediately put some tactical meat on the strategy bone, Secretary Chu announced the release of three solicitations totaling $50 million across three offshore wind focus areas: $25 million for technology development; $18 million for removing market barriers, and; $7.5 million for next generation drivetrain research.
Wind energy areas proposed for Mid-Atlantic states
One of the strategies intended to streamline permitting is the creation of specific ocean zones for wind energy development, four of which Interior Secretary Salazar identified today. Wind Energy Areas off the Mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey an Virginia will receive "early environmental reviews" as part of Interior's 'Smart from the Start' approach.
Areas off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and North Carolina are also slated to be proposed as Wind Energy Areas in March.
Announced in November, 2010, 'Smart from the Start' uses a combination of designated areas, coordinated environmental studies, large-scale planning and expedited approval processes to speed offshore wind energy development.
"The mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas are a key part of our 'Smart from the Start' program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America's waters," Secretary Salazar said.
Not coincidentally, a large chunk of Google's Atlantic Wind Connection, a proposed Mid-Atlantic offshore wind energy transmission backbone announced last fall is located inside the four zones proposed today by Interior Secretary Salazar.
With the new permitting process, if no significant impacts are identified in the regional environmental assessment by the newly-formed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, administration officials hope to begin offering leases by as early as the end of this year.
Criticized by many for not clearly articulating or communicating his policy agenda more clearly in its first two years in office, the Obama administration has come out swinging at the beginning of a new congress with a retooled communications strategy that clearly sets out specific means to achieve goals set out in his State of the Union address.
In another policy area mentioned in the president's address, electric vehicles, President Obama also laid out a three-bulletpoint strategy of how we can get to his goal of 1 million electric vehicles by 2015.
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