Reiterating the Obama administration’s commitment to offshore wind power, the U.S. Department of the Interior has announced an initiative it said will speed siting, leasing and construction of new projects on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. The department said the plan is modeled after its approach to solar development in the U.S. West, where eight large-scale projects have been approved since the beginning of October.
In launching the “Smart from the Start” process, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invoked Cape Wind, the Massachusetts project that won federal approval in April but continues to draw fire from critics as it slogs through the regulatory thickets. “The Cape Wind lease is a historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future,” Salazar said in a press release, “but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough and unburdened by needless red tape.”
The point man on the Interior Department’s new approach is Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). His agency is proposing a revision to its regulations that would eliminate a second request-for-proposal step in the leasing process “in situations where there is only one qualified and interested developer,” the Interior Department statement said, trimming the leasing process by up to a year.
BOEMRE will work with states to identify “Wind Energy Areas” (WEAs) off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the next 60 days. The program will expand to other Atlantic States in 2011, potentially including offshore New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
“We believe the regulatory change we are proposing, along with our efforts to identify priority Wind Energy Areas offshore, will result in a more efficient and coordinated permitting process for offshore wind,” Bromwich said.
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