Major offshore wind initiatives

Major steps forward in support of offshore wind energy in the United States have been recently unveiled, including new funding opportunities for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority Wind Energy Areas in the mid-Atlantic.


Unveiling a strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced major steps forward in support of offshore wind energy in the United States, including new funding opportunities for up to $50.5 million for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority Wind Energy Areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource.

Deployment of clean, renewable offshore wind energy will allegedly help meet the President's goal of generating 80 percent of the Nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

Secretary Salazar said that the mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas are a key part of the "Smart from the Start" program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America’s waters. Offshore wind energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversity energy supply, and stimulate economic revitalization, according to Secretary Chu.

The joint National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States made public is reportedly the first-ever interagency plan on offshore wind energy and demonstrates a strong federal family commitment to expeditiously develop a sustainable, world-class offshore wind industry in a way that reduces conflict with other ocean uses and protects resources, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The plan focuses on overcoming three key challenges: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; technical challenges surrounding installation, operations, and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting processes.

In support of this Strategic Work Plan, Secretary Chu announced the release of three solicitations, representing up to $50.5 million over 5 years, to develop breakthrough offshore wind energy technology and to reduce specific market barriers to its deployment:

  • Technology Development (up to $25 million over 5 years): DOE will support the 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.
  • Removing Market Barriers (up to $18 million over 3 years): DOE will support baseline studies and targeted environmental research to characterize key industry sectors and factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind. Specific activities will include offshore wind market and economic analysis; environmental risk reduction; manufacturing and supply chain development; transmission planning and interconnection strategies; optimized infrastructure and operations; and wind resource characterization.
  • Next-Generation Drivetrain (up to $7.5 million over 3 years): DOE will fund the development and refinement of next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains, a core technology required for cost-effective offshore wind power.

Salazar also identified four Wind Energy Areas offshore the mid-Atlantic as part of Interior's "Smart from the Start" approach announced in November 2010 that uses appropriate designated areas, coordinated environmental studies, large-scale planning and expedited approval processes to speed offshore wind energy development. 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 allegedly help to lessen the time required for review, leasing and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities.

In March, Interior also expects to identify Wind Energy Areas off of North Atlantic states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and launch additional NEPA environmental reviews for those areas. A similar process will occur for South Atlantic region, namely North Carolina, this spring.

Based on stakeholder and public participation, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) will prepare regional environmental assessments for Wind Energy Areas to evaluate the effects of leasing and site assessment activities on leased areas. If no significant impacts are identified, BOEMRE could offer leases in these Mid-Atlantic areas as early as the end of 2011 or early 2012. Comprehensive site-specific NEPA review will still need to be conducted for the construction of any individual wind power facility, and BOEMRE will work directly with project managers to ensure that those reviews take place on aggressive schedules.

Under the National Offshore Wind Strategy, the Department of Energy is pursuing a scenario that includes deployment of deploying 10 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030. Those scenarios include development in both federal and state offshore areas, including along Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts as well as in Great Lakes and Hawaiian waters. Those levels of development would reportedly produce enough energy to power 2.8 million and 15.2 million average American homes, respectively.

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