Obama Offers Funds to Launch US Offshore Wind Farms

From Business Mirror

TO help launch the US offshore wind industry, the Obama administration announced funding on Wednesday for seven projects and environmental groups said they’ve agreed with developers on how to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The Department of Energy said the funding, up to $168 million over six years, will expedite the development of the nations’ first offshore wind farms. None are operational yet, but nine have reached the advanced development phase and 24 more are in earlier stages.

“The United States has tremendous untapped clean-energy sources,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in the announcement. He noted the department’s projection that offshore wind offers more than 4,000 gigawatts of electricity potential—four times the nation’s current total generation. Last year land-based wind power accounted for a third of new electrical capacity, and 70 percent of its equipment was made in the United States.

The funding comes amid turmoil in the US wind industry. A lucrative federal-tax credit that helped propel its recent boom faces expiration at the end of this month. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a one-year extension as part of an overall deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” Yet Congress and President Obama have yet to reach such a deal.

To buoy offshore wind’s chances for success, environmental groups announced on Wednesday that they reached agreement with wind developers to protect North Atlantic right whales. The voluntary measures would reduce or avoid the noise of weather tower construction during peak migration periods. Such sound could disrupt whale communication, migration and feeding.

“We share with these leading developers a common objective to get offshore wind up and running as quickly as possible as a key tool in the fight against climate change,” Tricia Jedele of the Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island said in a statement.

The accord was reached between her group, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and three mid-Atlantic wind developers: Deepwater Wind, Energy Management Inc. (owner of Cape Wind in Massachusetts) and NRD Bluewater Wind.

The Obama administration, which aims to get 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean-energy sources by 2035, has taken several steps to develop technologies and expedite leasing for offshore wind projects.

In February Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said federal environmental reviews for designated “wind energy areas” off Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia were complete, clearing the way for their developers to seek leases.

Under the Department of Energy’s new funding, which builds on $42 million in R&D awards given last year, each project will receive up to $4 million to complete engineering, site evaluation and planning. The department will then select up to three of the projects, offering each up to $47 million, to abet their commercial operation by 2017.

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