Offshore wind developers have complained they are hampered by a seven-to-nine-year permit process. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department's new "Smart from the Start" initiative for Atlantic wind will help identify priority areas for potential development and accelerate the leasing process. The department could offer wind leases in these areas in late 2011 or early 2012. (Slim Allagui / Agence France-Presse)
BALTIMORE — The Obama administration announced a new initiative Tuesday to streamline the process for siting, leasing and building offshore wind farms along the Atlantic coast.
Offshore wind developers have complained they are hampered by a seven-to-nine-year permit process. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department's new "Smart from the Start" initiative for Atlantic wind will help identify priority areas for potential development and accelerate the leasing process. The department could offer wind leases in these areas in late 2011 or early 2012.
"If you have a process that's seven to nine years long, it simply is unacceptable," Salazar said during a news conference at the Fort McHenry National Monument.
The department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has proposed revising its regulations to simplify the leasing process for offshore wind when there is only one qualified, interested developer. The revision is expected to save six months to a year. The proposal, available on the Federal Register's website, has a 30-day public comment period.
Bureau officials also will work with states to identify "wind energy areas" — areas with high wind potential and few conflicts from competing uses — off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the next 60 days.
By January, Interior will issue a "request for interest" to developers who might be interested in leasing in those areas. A request was issued for Maryland earlier this month and others for New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are being developed.
Wind energy areas will be identified next year for other Atlantic states, perhaps New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Next year, the bureau will begin an environmental assessment of the wind energy areas. If that assessment identifies no potential problems, bureau officials would offer leases in the areas by the end of 2011 or early 2012. A lease would allow a developer to explore wind potential and propose projects that would receive a full environmental impact statement, Salazar said.
"By having the wind energy areas, we will help focus the developers' attention on areas with fewer potential conflicts," Salazar said.
Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, the offshore wind industry's trade group, said developers have waited years for an announcement like the one Tuesday, which shows the industry is "open for business." It will help generate jobs and offers regulatory certainty to suppliers seeking information on where and when to invest, he said.
"We are already training work-force members up and down the East Coast to be installers and operators of offshore wind," he said. "We're going to continue to do that. We're going to put these people to work."
Interior already has issued leases for various stages of projects in Massachusetts, Delaware and New Jersey.
Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director at the Sierra Club, applauded the administration's announcement and said the group will work to make sure that damage to marine life is minimized as offshore wind is developed.
"The Atlantic Coast holds tremendous potential for the kind of large-scale clean energy projects that will create jobs, breathe new life into our economy, and help make us a leader in the global clean energy marketplace," Nilles said.
Nicole Gaudiano reports for Gannett Washington Bureau.