By NICOLE DAO
BALTIMORE (November 23, 2010)Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a "Smart from the Start" initiative Tuesday designed to speed up permitting of wind energy projects along the Atlantic coast.
The program will make the offshore wind farm leasing and construction process easier for rapid development, said Salazar, joined at a press conference at Fort McHenry by Gov. Martin O'Malley and other officials.
"The wind potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering," he said. "With the right investments and the right planning, Atlantic wind can help power major cities ... creating tens of thousands of manufacturing and engineering jobs in the process."
O'Malley, who has made developing renewable energy a focus of his administration, agreed that the new initiative is the first step towards the United States breaking free of its reliance on foreign energy.
"I feel that we have to do our part for America's energy independence," O'Malley said. "And that's why Delaware and Maryland have been joining together over these last few years to push the envelope ... to be leaders in harnessing offshore wind for the sake of a cleaner, greener, healthier country and planet, but also for the tremendous job creating potential that is involved in harnessing offshore wind."
Along with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, state partners will identify potential Wind Energy Areas for development off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the next 60 days.
"Having the Wind Energy Areas will help focus the developers' attention on areas with fewer potential conflicts," Salazar said.
So far, several leasing applications have already been filed in New Jersey and Delaware.
Over the next six months, the program will gather environmental and geophysical information for potential developers, a task they would have done themselves prior to the initiative.
The initiative will also simplify the leasing process so that additional leases can be added in 2011 and 2012.
The bureau is proposing a revision to leasing regulations that will save 6 to 12 months in the process.
Currently, under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, developers are required to submit a proposal, which is then determined as either a competitive or noncompetitive lease, according to the bureau.
Both lease types go through a Request for Interest process that reviews competitive interests of developers for a particular lease area.
The bureau is proposing that noncompetitive leases should not require the Request for Interest condition because of redundancy.
"A process that is 7 to 9 years long is simply unacceptable, so the process we're announcing today hopefully will contract the timeframe that allows a developer to move forward within (reason)," Salazar said.
Officials were unsure how much shorter the process might be under the new initiative.
A year ago, O'Malley, along with former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, agreed to a partnership that encouraged developing offshore wind energy in the region, hoping to capitalize on the Mid-Atlantic's offshore wind resources.
Generating energy from offshore wind turbines would bring Maryland closer to accomplishing the governor's environmental goals, which include a commitment to producing 20 percent of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2022.
Last month, developers unveiled a $5 billion undersea transmission cable project that could link a Maryland wind farm planned off the Worchester County coast to the mainland electric grid upon completion in 2020.
The completed cable will have the capacity to carry 6,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.9 million homes, according to a press release.
Maryland officials said the project has the potential to create as many as 4,000 jobs in manufacturing and construction during a five-year development phase, and as many as 800 permanent jobs.
"The offshore wind industry in the United States is open for business," said Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition.
Lanard said potential developers should be hopeful that the wind industry will progress very soon.
"This is a very important step today and it is the signal that we've been waiting for, for many years," Lanard said.