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Energy Dept. to underwrite 7 wind projects

The federal government is stepping up its efforts to kick-start the offshore wind industry by awarding $28 million in grants to seven projects that are developing varying kinds of power-generation technology.

The Department of Energy said Wednesday that each developer would receive up to $4 million to complete the engineering, design and permitting phases of their projects in six states. Three of the seven will then be selected to receive up to $47 million over four years, subject to Congressional appropriations, for construction and installation, with the aim of having them begin commercial operation by 2017. So far, no offshore wind farm is operating in American waters.

The projects are in Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and Oregon. In New Jersey, one project plans to install as many as six direct-drive turbines in state waters three miles off Atlantic City, using a bottom-mounted design that is intended to minimize environmental impacts. In one Maine project, Statoil North America wants to build four three-megawatt turbines on floating structures in the Gulf of Maine near Boothbay Harbor.

The projects that go into commercial operation are expected to be preceded by proposed wind farms off Massachusetts and Rhode Island that have been approved but not yet built. The slow start in the United States contrasts with advances in Europe, where, by mid-2011, 49 wind farms with more than 1,200 turbines were producing 3,294 megawatts for nine national grids, according to the European Wind Energy Association.

The Fishermen’s Energy project in New Jersey is set to be the first demonstration project in the American wind industry, the company said in a statement welcoming the Energy Department’s announcement. It said it would now focus on the final selection of a contractor and hoped to begin construction onshore next year. 2013. By 2014, the company said, it aims to build the first American offshore wind farm connected to the grid.

“This project is the catalyst needed to jumpstart the offshore wind industry in New Jersey, and it sends the right signals to manufacturers that New Jersey is open for business,” said Rhonda Jackson, a spokeswoman for Fishermen’s Energy.

Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, a trade group, called the awards a “shot in the arm for the offshore wind industry., “We fully expect all developers that receive the subsequent rounds of support to be able to get steel in the water,” he wrote in an e-mail.
In October the Department of the Interior awarded the first lease under its “Smart From the Start” initiative to encourage offshore wind development. The lease, for some 96,000 acres of ocean off Delaware, gives NRG Bluewater Wind the exclusive right to submit plans for site assessment, construction, or operation, to federal officials.

Steven Chu, the secretary of energy, said the new awards reflected the Obama administration’s “All of the Above” strategy to diversifying domestic energy sources.

The money “paves the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diverse energy portfolio that develops every source of American energy,” he said in a statement.