WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed Tuesday to spur offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean by expediting permits and identifying promising areas for wind power.
At a speech in Baltimore, Salazar said he will institute a "smart permitting process" that could result in leases issued within two years, instead of seven years or more.
Salazar and developers of the nation's first offshore wind farm signed a lease last month launching the 130-turbine Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast, following an eight-year federal review.
"The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America's renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation's vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough and unburdened by needless red tape," Salazar said.
The Cape Wind project faced intense opposition from two Indian tribes and some environmentalists and residents, including the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who warned that the windmills could mar the ocean view. They would be visible from the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port.
Salazar said the project's developers can protect local culture and beauty while expanding the nation's supply of renewable energy.
Salazar said he and other federal officials will work with governors in 11 Atlantic Coast states to identify promising areas for wind development. If no serious problems are identified, leases could be issued late next year or in early 2012.
Salazar said he hopes to pursue offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast in the same way officials are pushing solar power in the Southwest.
"If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home," he said.
Conservation groups and a group representing the wind industry hailed Salazar's announcement.
"Ocean wind power is the good witch to the bad witch of ocean oil drilling," said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. "People need jobs and energy. Ocean wind power, unlike ocean oil drilling, is a great way to do both."
Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said streamlining the multistep permitting process for offshore wind projects was essential.
"As the pipeline of projects begin to move forward more rapidly, the environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind, including manufacturing facilities and associated jobs, can be realized," she said.
Under the initiative, the Interior Department will work with state officials over the next two months to identify possible sites for wind projects in six states: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A preliminary list is expected in January.
Additional sites will be identified next year in five more states: New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., said his state was solidifying its position as a national leader in creating clean energy jobs that will reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and protect the environment.
Wind energy projects "will bring thousands of jobs to our region that cannot be outsourced," Cardin said.