By Ben Geman - 02/02/12 06:36 PM EST
“Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we’re moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects,” Salazar said in a statement.
Interior also moved a step closer to issuing leases by formally soliciting information from wind developers about their interest in specific tracts off Maryland and Virginia, a process that has already occurred for Delaware and New Jersey.
Interior hopes to sell leases off the coasts of New Jersey and Maryland by the end of this year, and off the Virginia coast early next year.
Offshore wind projects in the United States have been slow to get going compared to Europe.
But a number of companies are exploring commercial wind development off the mid-Atlantic Coast, such as Apex Wind Energy, Inc., NRG Bluewater Wind, Fisherman’s Energy, Deepwater Wind and others.
Further along is Energy Management Inc., which is planning to build the long-delayed Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast. It was approved under an earlier regulatory process.
The American Wind Energy Association, a major trade group, applauded the environmental finding, calling it a “significant milestone in efforts to launch a vital new American offshore wind industry.”
A separate corporate group, called the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said Interior’s “finding of no significant impact” is far more than just bureaucratic jargon.
“The [finding] has the potential to reduce the permitting time line for offshore wind farms by as much as two years, as compared to a requirement that the agency prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for these [wind energy areas], which would require two years of studies and government reviews,” said Jim Lanard, the group’s president.
The Obama administration’s strategy calls for deployment of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030 (targets that include both state and federal waters off both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and other regions).
Fifty-four gigawatts would be enough to power more than 15 million average homes, according to the Energy Department.
Environmental groups and several Atlantic Coast lawmakers cheered Interior’s environmental finding. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said wind development could boost his state’s economy.
“This initiative will help New Jersey become a national leader in wind energy innovation by welcoming business leaders and homegrown clean-energy jobs,” he said. “With our natural resources, workforce and research institutions, New Jersey is a fertile place to grow a strong wind energy economy.”
The environmental analysis completed by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was a broad study, and more environmental review will be needed for specific projects.
Here’s more from Interior about Thursday’s announcement:
The agency prepared an environmental assessment of the potential impacts of issuing renewable energy leases, including reasonably foreseeable consequences associated with site characterization activities, such as geophysical, geotechnical, archeological and biological surveys in the Wind Energy Areas off Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware. The environmental assessment also considered potential environmental impacts associated with site assessment activities, such as the installation and operation of meteorological towers and buoys on leases that may be issued in these areas.