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Offshore Wind One Step Closer to Reality in the Mid-Atlantic

Today the Obama administration moved forward with plans to develop the enormous offshore wind energy resources along the Mid-Atlantic coast, using a "Smart for the Start" approach designed to expedite the siting process while incorporating strong environmental protections.

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior Department, (DOI), and the head of DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, joined Governor O’Malley of Maryland in Baltimore to announce the latest developments.

The administration released plans for developing waters off New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Offshore wind power could create tens of thousands of jobs and generate power for millions of homes in the region.

Specifically, the Department of Interior approved “wind energy areas” off the coasts of these states where projects can move through the regulatory approval process more quickly, as well as model lease language and environmental review documents for the initial site assessment process, which is the first step in developing an offshore wind project. 

The smart-from-the-start approach means taking into account the need to protect ocean ecosystems, wildlife and existing human uses in order to site things where they make the most sense. This is the kind of progress anticipated to increase as the administration implements the National Ocean Policy created by the President in 2010.

Currently, the process for getting offshore wind power off the ground in this country takes far too long. The projected timeline for approval of an offshore wind project is currently 7-9 years, far longer than the typical siting process for a fossil-fuel fired power plant (generally 2 -3 years). It’s a crying shame that that it has taken so long to get clean, homegrown offshore wind turbines up and running while fossil-fuel power plants, with their plethora of health and environmental impacts, can be green-lighted in a fraction of the time.

And it’s one of several reasons why the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in developing its offshore wind resources. In Europe, some 53 offshore wind projects, totally almost 3,800 MW of capacity, are producing clean renewable energy off the coasts of 10 European countries, with nine more major offshore wind projects under construction. In China, the country’s first offshore wind project has been built, with more underway.

In stark contrast, the United States has approved a grand total of one offshore wind project, and has zero in operation.  Cape Wind — the nation’s first-approved project, located in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound — illustrates this problem clearly. The Cape Wind approval process took a decade, and project’s construction has still not begun, due to financing challenges and litigation launched by opponents of the projects. NRDC continues to be a strong supporter of the Cape Wind project, and has joined the legal battles as a “friend of the court” to support DOI and Cape Wind, together with our partners at the Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon. We need to speed up the timeline for similar projects in the future if we want to get serious about advancing this promising source of renewable technology in America.

Today’s announcement gives us hope that the United States will now be able to develop our enormous offshore wind resources more quickly — and deliver the enormous economic, environmental and public health benefits that come with them. Already, a number of projects appear poised to move forward in the near future, including Deepwater Wind’s project in Rhode Island state waters, and Fishermen Energy’s project off Atlantic City in New Jersey. We need to scale up well-sited offshore wind projects throughout the East Coast in a sustainable way as soon as possible.

We’ll be carefully reviewing the details of DOI’s environmental review and model lease documents announced today to ensure that appropriate environmental protections and mitigation measures have been incorporated. NRDC will continue to use every opportunity to advocate for smart siting of offshore wind projects. 

This article was originally published on NRDC Switchboard and was republished with permission.

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