Federal Government Opens More Ocean to Wind Projects

Source: DIANE CARDWELL • New York Times • Posted: Friday, February 3, 2012

Enthusiasm for offshore wind projects may have cooled among developers in the United States these days, but the Obama administration is still trying to make a ribbon of wind farms off the Atlantic Coast a reality.

On Thursday, Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, and Tommy P. Beaudreau, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the government had completed an environmental review and found that selling leases for wind energy would not create environmental problems in the designated “wind energy areas” off the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.

The finding allows the start of a public comment period and could result in leases by the end of the year, officials said.

“With the right investment and the right timing, Atlantic wind can help power cities from Baltimore to Boston and Savannah, creating tens of thousands of manufacturing and engineering jobs,” Mr. Salazar said, adding that there were a number of developers interested in the leases. “This is not something that’s going to be waiting around.”

Offshore wind projects have been popular in other regions but have not moved forward in the United States like onshore projects. There are several projects in various stages of planning or development on the East Coast, including the underwater transmission spine Google is helping to finance, but creating giant wind farms at sea poses so many challenges that it has proved difficult to get projects off the ground.

In Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project that would bring a wind farm to Nantucket Sound stalled for nine years before it was finally approved in 2010. It recently cleared a hurdle when a court upheld a contract with National Grid for purchase of half its electricity. That should make it easier to sell more power and raise money to build the project, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for the company.

In December, NRG announced that it was suspending the Bluewater wind park off the Delaware coast because it could not find an investment partner.

David W. Crane, chief executive of NRG, said Thursday that it was a “significant positive step” that the Interior Department planned to move quickly and issue leases in a matter of months rather than years. But he said there were still many obstacles to bringing wind power to American waters, chief among them the low price of natural gas, which makes other forms of power generation too expensive to develop.

“Will it follow as night follows day that offshore wind will be built in the United States because the Department of the Interior is giving out leases?” he said. “That’s absolutely not the case.”