"AWEA applauds Secretary Salazar for his leadership in offshore wind power. Efforts to rationalize the multi-step permitting process for offshore wind farm projects are essential for Eastern states to be able to take advantage of this excellent resource. As the pipeline of wind turbines projects begin to move forward more rapidly, the environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind power, including wind turbines manufacturing facilities and associated jobs, can be realized."
Salazar said he and other federal officials will work with governors in 11 Atlantic Coast states to identify promising areas for wind farm development. If no serious problems are identified, leases could be issued late next year or in early 2012.
Salazar said he hopes to pursue offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast in the same way officials are pushing concentrating solar power in the Southwest.
"These are areas with high wind potential and with fewer potential conflicts with competing uses," he said. "If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home."
The announcement comes as Internet giant Google and other investors have pledged up to $5 billion for a network of deepwater transmission lines to bring power from offshore wind farms to homes and businesses along the East Coast. The first phase is expected to cost $1.8 billion and run 150 miles in federal waters from New Jersey to Delaware.
Salazar and developers of the nation’s first offshore wind farm signed a lease last month launching the 130 wind turbines Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast, following an eight-year federal review.
Salazar called the Cape Wind lease "historic," but he said a more efficient permitting process is needed to fully harness potentially vast economic and energy benefits of wind power off the Atlantic Coast.
The Cape Wind farm faced intense opposition from two Indian tribes and some environmentalists and residents, who argue the project threatens marine life as well as maritime traffic and industry. They also say windmills could mar the ocean view.
"Ocean wind power is the good witch to the bad witch of ocean oil drilling," said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. "People need jobs and energy. Ocean wind power, unlike ocean oil drilling, is a great way to do both."
Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said streamlining the multistep permitting process for offshore wind farm projects was essential.
Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said the plan showed that "the offshore wind energy industry in the United States is open for business."
Under the initiative, the Interior Department will work with state officials over the next two months to identify possible sites for wind farm projects in six states: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A preliminary list is expected in January.
Additional sites will be identified next year in five more states: New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.