Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a broad-based initiative on Tuesday aimed at accelerating the development of offshore wind power projects on the Outer Continental Shelf along the nation’s Atlantic coast.
The initiative is designed to shave years off of an uncertain permitting process that developers say can drag on for the better part of a decade, discouraging potential investors.
Mr. Salazar unveiled the initiative during a news conference in Baltimore, where he was joined by other Interior Department representatives and Maryland and Delaware officials.
The announcement comes a day after state regulators in Massachusetts approved a plan by National Grid, a regional utility, to purchase part of the power to be generated by the Cape Wind offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound. That project has been hampered by legal wrangling, federal reviews and other roadblocks for nearly a decade.
The Interior Department finalized a lease with developers of Cape Wind last month.
“The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future,” Mr. Salazar said in a prepared statement. “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 new program, called the “Smart from the Start” wind energy initiative, is modeled after a similar scheme designed to accelerate the adoption of solar power in the West, Mr. Salazar said.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the Interior agency that supplanted the dysfunctional Minerals Management Service after the BP oil spill in the gulf, will work with officials in several Atlantic states — including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts — to identify sites for potential development within the next 60 days.
Feasibility and environmental assessments of those sites would commence as early as January, according to the Interior’s plan, with an aim of offering leases in areas deemed appropriate by the end of next year or early in 2012.
Current regulations governing leases on the Outer Continental Shelf would also be tweaked to allow for more streamlined lease sales in cases where only one qualified developer is involved — although the change would be subject first to a 30-day public comment period.
The oceans agency would also work to help fast-track other necessary reviews and permits tied to other agencies, and to aggressively process applications for new transmission infrastructure that would be needed to handle electricity generated by proliferating offshore wind farms.
Google and a New York financial firm announced plans last month to invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms.
Andrew Sharpless, the chief executive of the environmental organization Oceana, welcomed Mr. Salazar’s announcement.
“Ocean wind power is the good witch to the bad witch of ocean oil drilling,” he said in a statement. “We are pleased that the government is welcoming the good witch to our shores.
“People need jobs and energy,” he said. “Ocean wind power, unlike ocean oil drilling, is a great way to do both.”By TOM ZELLER JR./NYT