Salazar: U.S. trying to streamline approvals for East Coast offshore wind

Speaking at the Offshore Wind Power USA Boston conference, outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar highlights the need to streamline regulations to speed offshore wind development along the U.S. East Coast.
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Offshore Wind Power USA Boston is being held this week (Feb. 26-27) in, you guessed it, Boston, Mass. The location is not a coincidence. The east coast of the U.S. offers an excellent wind resource, but it was only recently that the first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, was approved by the Obama Administration off the coast of Massachusetts. CW’s Scott Stephenson was at the conference and offers this synopsis of the Feb. 26 keynote address, given by outgoing U.S. Secretary of the Interior (DoI) Ken Salazar.

Salazar noted that the U.S. has resources on the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean that could make powering the Northeast U.S. grid a reality. One of the problems, he said, was that 10 years ago projects like Cape Wind became bogged down in red tape because there was no regulatory system in place. A regulatory system is required, Salazar said, for the people and companies putting capital at risk to give some certainty about what the process entails for development of the outer continental shelf. DoI, he noted, controls 750 million acres of mineral rights onshore, but 1.7 million acres off shore — the entire outer continental shelf in U.S. territorial waters.

Now, contended Salazar, the U.S. has a regulatory system in place at the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) with more than 25 experts to provide certainty to developers as they evaluate new projects. In the process, BOEMRE has tried to be smart about conflicting interests along the continental shelf and have worked with states and other government entities to map out the best zones for offshore wind. Most of the best locations for offshore wind in the Atlantic are mapped out, so as developers look at sites, in many cases conflicts with government agencies have already been “deconflicted.”

Interest along the Atlantic coast has been high, Salazar noted. BOEMRE has already issued two leases, one to Cape Wind and then one off the coast of Delaware. Lease sales will take place in 2013 for Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. There is also interest in North Carolina, Maine and Oregon.

Once offshore wind systems are constructed, the challenge of transmission remains. Salazar pointed to a new system to fast-track onshore transmission development, but no such system exists yet for offshore wind. Atlantic Wind Connection, developed by Atlantic Grid Development LLC (Chevy Chase, Md.), is pursuing offshore transmission development, which Salazar thinks has promise.

Finally, Salazar addressed the challenge of the wind energy production tax credit (PTC). He said that the U.S. Congress should provide greater financial security to the wind energy industry and avoid the fits and starts that have characterized the PTC over the last few years. 

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