Salazar: Government to help speed up wind energy in Maine, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Rhode Island

Salazar said the federal government must collaborate with the states, which include Maine, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Rhode Island, to avoid long delays for appropriate projects. He said the coastal states are leading the way in developing offshore wind power.

Salazar’s goals include working to identify which coastal areas are best suited for wind turbines and discouraging speculators from rushing in to lay early claims ahead of the process.

Salazar, who spoke on a conference call after meeting Friday with several Atlantic Coast governors in Washington, also said he wanted to make sure that future wind farms avoid the kind of protracted delays that have beset the Cape Wind wind farm project.

The project to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has been in the works for nine years and has run into fierce opposition from critics who say the project is a threat to aviation, bird life and commercial fishing interests.

Salazar is still weighing the fate of the $1 billion project, which developers say will provide cheaper energy, reduce pollution and create green jobs. Gov. Deval Patrick supports the project.

Salazar said that under the Obama administration there has been a renewed focus on offshore wind energy, which had been plagued by regulatory red tape in the past.

"We were able to break that logjam and there are a set of rules now," he said, adding that future projects "won’t be subjected to the same kind of time frame as Cape Wind."

The governors said they welcomed the extra support. "We all agree the time is now," said Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri. "We need to move ahead as a nation rapidly."

Carcieri’s administration has signed a deal with Deepwater Wind LLC to build a project that could involve about 100 turbines roughly 15 to 20 miles off the shoreline. In the near term, the company hopes to build a smaller demonstration project off Block Island. The projects still require multiple permits.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci said he believes strongly in the future of offshore wind power. In December, Maine officials identified three wind power test sites in the Gulf of Maine. Experimentation will start with floating test turbines anchored in 200 to 300 feet of water within 3 miles of each of the islands.

The first floating turbines could be in place in 2011, and larger windmills would be deployed starting in 2013, before construction of the first windmills in a commercial array. Private companies will be invited to propose projects at the two sites and the University of Maine, which has received an $8 million federal grant, will develop the third.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said the collaboration between the federal government and states will help the country take advantage of the natural energy resource.

"This opportunity is bigger than any one state," he said. "This is an enormous opportunity." Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said besides clean energy, offshore wind power also offers the opportunity for "green jobs for Americans." "There is no reason why we should have to import these technologies from other countries," he said.

Massachusetts has also tried to take a lead on planning for the use of coastal waters. In January, Massachusetts released a landmark ocean-management plan, creating a vast regulatory map for the state’s coastal waters and setting new limits for offshore wind farms.

The plan allows up to 266 wind turbines in state waters, 166 in two designated commercial wind farm areas and 100 more wind turbines scattered up and down the coast in smaller "community" projects, as the state tries to ramp up its renewable energy output.