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The Wind’s at the Back of Offshore Wind

on • 3 min. read

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched his ‘Smart from the Start’ Atlantic OCS Offshore Wind Initiative, Its objective is to “speed up development of wind energy by searching the Atlantic Coast for the most desirable places to build windmills rather than wait for developers to propose sites that could hurt the environment or sit in the middle of a shipping lane."

This is an exciting initiative. It has drawn praise from across the political spectrum, because it addresses a major problem – the absurdly long time it takes to get an offshore wind project in this country up and running. Currently, as The Washington Post points out, it can take "up to nine years for an offshore project to get approval to build." The $2.5 billion Cape Wind project, located off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, originally applied for a federal permit back in 2001. That application kicked off a decade (and counting) of court challenges, comment periods, environmental impact studies, hearings, and other delays – many of which were driven by dirty energy baron Bill Koch, one of the two brothers exiled from the ruling pair of Koch brothers (Charles and David), who run the dirty energy empire of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas. Earlier this month, as we pointed out on Scaling Green, Massachusetts approved a purchase agreement for half the power produced by Cape Wind. After a decade of delays, that’s great news, but it should never have taken this long in the first place.

What the Department of Interior’s new approach calls for is an “accelerated leasing process” and “a regulatory change, enabling leases to be issued in 2011 and 2012.” That’s just a few months away, in stark contrast to the decade it took for Cape Wind to get as far as it has. Also, as The New York Times points out, this new Department of Interior initiative for wind power development is "modeled after a similar scheme meant to accelerate the adoption of solar power in the West." Fast tracking renewable energy projects is proof that government is irrelevant to cleantech. In fact, it’s worth fighting to stop the dirty energy lobby from continuing to run the tables on market positioning and policy.

Just as encouraging as “Smart from the Start” is the announcement that "Google and a New York financial firm announced plans last month to invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms." Combined with the Department of Interior’s “Smart from the Start” initiative, construction of this transmission capacity could lead to explosive growth for offshore wind power development in the United States. At CBS Business Network, the optimistic verdict is that the “U.S. offshore wind industry has finally hit the federal fast track,” although it continues to lag far behind Europe, where “16 offshore wind farms totaling 3,972 megawatts were under construction in the first six months of the year.” And at greentechmedia, the headline declares triumphantly, “Offshore Wind Moves to Full Speed Ahead.”

With estimates of potential power generation capacity ranging as high as 1,000 gigawatts from the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf alone – the equivalent of powering 800 million homes – these are developments that should be encouraging to the over 90 percent of Americans who want clean energy promoted.