Offshore wind hits fast lane in the Atlantic

Government announces plan to streamline the permitting process for offshore wind farms. Will it also hasten investments by avoiding drawn out leasing battles as in Massachusett's Cape Wind?
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor on

Offshore wind turbines may soon sprout more quickly on the Outer Continental Shelf off the East Coast. And this doesn't count Cape Wind's 130 turbines slated for Nantucket Sound within the next two years.

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a program yesterday that would streamline the permit process for offshore farms in order to encourage investments.

Salazar in a statement:

The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future, 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.

After all, Cape Wind's approval path, which was fraught with legal battles, spanned almost a decade. On Monday, Massachusetts accepted the farm's first power purchase agreement with National Grid. For 15 years, the utility will buy half of the electricity generated by the farm at $187 per megawatt-hour. The company will now seek financing to start building.

Within two months, the ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative will identify prime ocean turbine real estate off 6 states—Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. (Evaluations for New York and other states will follow.) According to the government, the "Wind Energy Areas" could potentially generate 10.3 gigawatts of wind power. Importantly, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly MMS) also plans to fast-track plans for transmission lines in order to bring this influx of electricity ashore.

Within six months, several government agencies will help assess the locations, determining whether the facilities would interfere with shipping routes, right whale migrations, or training areas for the Navy. But the chosen WEAs are supposed to a smaller chance of encountering such issues that would delay getting leases through and construction started.

Regarding simplifying lease sales, BOEMRE proposes allowing sales to go through with only one interested developer, without verifying there is no competitive interest. This would cut down the leasing process, they say, by six months to a year.

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Image: Cape Wind

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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