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Feds streamline permit process for wind farms

To accelerate development of an offshore wind industry, federal officials are offering $50.5 million in research-and-development grants and are expediting environmental reviews for four key areas, including Delaware. Streamlining the permitting process holds the promise that leases for Mid-Atlantic wind farms could be awarded by the end of this year.

Two federal cabinet secretaries say initiatives in a plan announced Monday, Feb. 7, will spur rapid and responsible development of renewable energy.

NRG Bluewater Wind President Peter Mandelstam said, “Today’s announcement is important because it shows focus at the highest levels of the Obama administration, with two cabinet secretaries working together toward clean energy.”

Speaking from Norfolk, Va., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “The Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas are a key part of our Smart from the Start program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America’s waters.”

He said the government is synchronizing research and development initiatives with efficient planning to jump-start a new industry that promises to help create jobs and produce clean energy while keeping the nation competitive by developing 21st century technology.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said he is pleased Delaware is at the forefront of the federal push toward renewable energy. “This is good news for Delaware, both for the opportunity it gives our state to be a leader in clean, alternative energy development and for the chance to create a wealth of new high-tech jobs in the region,” Coons said.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said offshore wind energy can cut greenhouse gas emissions, diversify energy supplies and stimulate the economy.

The secretaries released a report containing an interagency plan for offshore energy that promises a strong federal commitment to development of the industry, Chu said. The plan is aimed at how to overcome the high cost of offshore wind energy; the technical challenges of installation, operations and grid connections; and the government’s lack of data and experience in permitting such projects.

Chu said the federal government plans to spend as much as $50.5 million over five years. Of that, $25 million will go to technology development, $18 million to establish baseline studies and environmental research, and $7.5 million to fund development and refinement of wind-turbine technology.

Jim Lanard, president of the Offhsore Wind Development Coalition, welcomed the announcement. He said the United States has been lagging behind in the race to develop technology for wind power. “We need technology innovation, and we need new technology initiatives,” he said.

Salazar identified four areas where permitting will be expedited. Areas off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia are targeted for environmental reviews to lessen the time needed for permit reviews, leasing and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities.

Lanard said initiatives Salazar and Chu announced will speed up the process to identify potential wind farm sites, while ensuring they are developed in full compliance with federal law.

Mandelstam said the coordinated environmental reviews will push the process forward in the areas where NRG Bluewater Wind is interested in working in the Mid-Atlantic. The company already has a power-purchase agreement with Delmarva Power for a planned wind farm off Rehoboth Beach.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said, barring significant environmental issues, leases to companies that want to build wind farms in the Mid-Atlantic could be awarded by the end of 2011 or early 2012.