After participating in an 8-year struggle to get offshore wind development approved in Massachusetts waters, federal officials are pushing for expedited reviews and approvals in a rapidly growing number of other US coastal areas.
In the rollout of the National Offshore Wind Strategy, announced Feb. 7, 2011, Dept. of Energy officials identified priority zones off the shores of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. In March, they anticipate identifying similar zones off the shores of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. North Carolina waters will be the target in April, May, or June. Similar designations are expected to occur in coming months and years in both federal and state waters along the Atlantic, Pacific, Hawaiian, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes coasts.
- "Salazar, Chu Announce Major Offshore Wind Initiatives," Energy Dept. release of February 7, 2011 (includes links to a map of the four designated areas, a fact sheet, and other resources).
The expedited review process will be an important component to cover, since critics may charge that viable environmental concerns aren't being appropriately addressed.
If the process goes as the Dept. of Energy is planning, leases in the waters off of DE, MD, NJ, and VA could be awarded as soon as the end of 2011. Site-specific NEPA reviews would follow, but awarding the leases will be a key sign of federal and state government commitment to any given site.
In addition to the site-specific concerns, there are good "follow-the-money" angles. One is that states will receive a sizable chunk of the money the federal government collects from the wind power projects, giving states an incentive to push for project approvals. Another is that DoE will be awarding up to about $50 million over 5 years to boost research on various aspects of wind power, including technology, operations, policy, and financial issues. Companies in your audience area that win the funding will warrant coverage both initially and as results emerge.