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Interior, Energy departments launch joint offshore wind strategy

The Obama administration announced several steps Monday to boost development of offshore wind projects, with an eye toward eventually powering millions of U.S. homes.

The Interior and Energy Departments released a joint strategy aimed at cutting costs of offshore wind power and speeding up project timelines. The effort comes amid a White House push to win wider political backing for federal renewable energy initiatives.

White House goals include increased Energy Department spending on green technology, and a “clean energy standard” under which utilities would be required to ramp up their power generation from low-carbon sources.

The U.S. offshore wind industry is in its fledgling stages, and no projects are completed. But ocean projects are seen as a potentially large source of electricity, and developers are planning projects off the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey and other states.

The joint Interior-Energy strategy is aimed at spurring deployment of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity by 2030, which would be enough to power roughly 15 million homes. It sets an interim goal of 10 gigawatts in 2020.

The Interior Department has approved the Cape Wind project slated for construction off the Massachusetts coast, but the new strategy notes that major hurdles confront plans for wide deployment in U.S. waters.

“Key challenges to the development and deployment of offshore wind technology include the relatively high cost of energy, technical challenges surrounding installation and grid interconnection, and permitting challenges related to the lack of site data and lack of experience with permitting processes for projects in both federal and state waters,” the strategy notes.

Interior on Monday also designated four “wind energy areas” off the Atlantic Coast as part of a program launched last year to expedite development through steps such as coordinated environmental studies.

“The areas, on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Delaware (122 square nautical miles), Maryland (207), New Jersey (417), and Virginia (165), will receive early environmental reviews that will help to lessen the time required for review, leasing and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities,” an Interior summary states.

The Energy Department, for its part, rolled out a call for proposals to use over $50 million over five years in R&D money it’s offering.

The biggest chunk of cash – up to $25 million – is for “development of innovative wind turbine design tools and hardware to provide the foundation for a cost-competitive and world-class offshore wind industry in the United States.”

“Specific activities will include the development of open-source computational tools, system-optimized offshore wind plant concept studies, and coupled turbine rotor and control systems to optimize next-generation offshore wind systems,” the agency said.

The rest of the funding is for initiatives to help knock down “marker barriers,” and develop and refine “next generation” drivetrains for turbines.