Interior to expedite permits for offshore wind energy

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday said his department would propose regulatory changes to simplify and speed the leasing process for wind energy development off the Atlantic coast. In addition, the department will work aggressively to process applications to build transmission lines to move the electricity produced by offshore wind farms to consumers, he said at a news briefing in Baltimore with officials from Maryland and Delaware.

The proposed changes are the result of lessons the department learned in implementing the controversial Cape Wind lease off the coast of Massachusetts earlier this year, a process that took eight years. Salazar described the lease, which is expected to power 200,000 homes, as a "historic milestone in America's renewable energy future." But he said it was clear federal officials needed to make the permitting process more efficient if they are to realize the Obama administration's goals of harnessing the economic and environmental benefits of producing energy from the strong and steady winds that characterize much of the Atlantic coast.

Through the accelerated leasing process, led by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the department could issue new leases by the end of 2011.

The proposed regulatory revisions would eliminate a redundant step the bureau is now required to take in the event a single qualified developer indicates an interest in a particular lease. By eliminating what can be a yearlong process to determine no competitive interest exists, officials expect to significantly expedite the permitting process.

In addition, the bureau is working with state officials in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to identify designated wind energy areas -- offshore locations most suitable for development -- within the next 60 days. Officials then will collect data on these high-priority areas to inform government and industry assessments and planning to create a more efficient and coordinated process for permitting and siting wind farms and transmission lines. Other coastal states are likely to identify wind energy areas next year.

In January 2011, Interior will issue industry solicitations to determine interest in offshore wind development in the wind energy areas, after which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will initiate environmental assessments in close coordination with other agencies, Salazar said.

Unless officials identify significant environmental impediments, leases could be offered by the end of 2011, he said.

Salazar said Interior would publish the proposed regulatory changes on Tuesday in the Federal Register, where they will be available for public comment for 30 days.

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