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Ten States Aim for Offshore Wind Boom in Alliance with Interior Department

Wind energy along Atlantic seaboard won't need long, expensive transmission lines to supply cities with electric power

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jun 10, 2010

WASHINGTON—If Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s proposed advances for siting offshore windmills are as sleek, transparent and finely tuned as promised, then Cape Wind in Massachusetts won’t be a solo act for too long.

But if his recent streamlining efforts are all talk and no walk, the Atlantic Coast could be in for numerous repeats of the protracted, brutal and spiteful bouts that unfolded in Nantucket Sound for almost a decade.

New Englander Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind’s communications manager since 2002, is rooting for the first scenario.

“This a good sign for offshore wind development in the United States,” Rodgers told Solve Climate in an interview about this week’s formation of the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. “It’s another in a series of steps of real collaboration between federal and state governments in moving wind energy forward.”

The consortium, announced Tuesday, is an alliance between the Interior Department and the governors of 10 East Coast states. Together, they are drafting a plan to promote what Salazar called efficient, orderly and responsible offshore wind development along the Outer Continental Shelf.

European nations have already blazed an impressive trail of success on the other side of the Atlantic, with more than 2000MW now installed offshore and generating wind power. A quarter of that total came online last year, with another 1000MW expected in 2010.

Expediting an onerous federal permitting process should be the top priority, Rodgers of Cape Wind emphasized. He has no quibble with the process being comprehensive—it just needs to be less complicated.

“We knew going first would be the hardest,” he said about Cape Wind, which Salazar gave the green light to April 28, eight days after an oil rig explosion caused the country’s most massive environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “All along, we were hoping to blaze the trail for those who follow.”

“Governors of East Coast states are not interested in underwriting tens of billions of dollars to upgrade an infrastructure to bring electricity from the wind belt in the middle of county to population centers here,” Rodgers continued. “Instead, they have vast untapped resources just a few miles off shore.”

Nuts and Bolts of the Deal

The governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina all signed the memorandum of understanding with Salazar. The agreement also directs Interior officials to create inter-governmental task forces so local, state, tribal and federal stakeholders can coordinate the commercial leasing process for offshore renewables.

Many conservation organizations and a Washington-based trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, applauded Salazar’s announcement. Tom Vinson, AWEA’s director of federal regulatory affairs, said he is confident the consortium will ensure that offshore wind projects continue to progress in a timely manner.

Numerous offshore wind developers, including Bluewater Wind (owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy) and Deepwater Wind, are progressing on small and large wind farm projects along the Northeast and mid-Atlantic shores.

Interior’s new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management—a division created by Salazar’s May decision to divide Minerals Management Service into three parts—will oversee the development of wind and other renewable resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. Virginia will be home to a regional renewable energy office, though a specific location is still being decided, Salazar said.

Balancing Near and Far Renewable Energy Is Vital

Though Rob Marmet of the Virginia-based Piedmont Environmental Council has not reviewed the agreement’s paperwork yet, he told SolveClimate Wednesday it’s a positive move because offshore wind can be a major and local power supply for the East Coast, which is dotted with electricity-hungry cities.

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