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U.S. to speed up offshore wind efforts

Interior Department says it will work to identify high-priority areas off the Atlantic coast, as well as revise regulations to simplify the leasing process.

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled plans to begin issuing new offshore wind energy leases as soon as next year under an accelerated approval process.

The U.S. Interior Department said it will work to identify high-priority areas off the Atlantic coast for offshore wind energy development, as well as revise regulations to simplify the leasing process as part of its new initiative.

"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," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Offshore wind turbine

The department said it will also move "aggressively" to process applications to build offshore transmission lines to bring power from the wind farms onshore.

The push to promote offshore wind power may provide a boost to a proposed $5 billion offshore transmission project backed by Google and its partners.

Last month Cape Wind received the nation's first lease for a major offshore wind farm, but the approval came after nearly a decade of regulatory hurdles for the $1 billion project.

To speed up development, the department will designate so-called Wind Energy Areas off the coasts of states including Delaware, Virginia, and Rhode Island in the next 60 days.

The department will begin preparing environmental assessments of the offshore tracts in January.

Barring any findings of major environmental impacts, the department would start offering leases in the areas by the end of 2011 or early 2012.

The American Wind Energy Association applauded the department's expedited leasing process.

"Efforts to rationalize the multistep permitting process for offshore wind projects are essential for Eastern states to be able to take advantage of this excellent resource," AWEA chief executive Denise Bode said in a statement.