Federal approval likely for offshore wind line

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Trenton Times, December 21, 2011
By Eliot Caroom


Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
yesterday talked up a proposal to build a transmission line for offshore wind power off the Atlantic Coast and said the project should get a federal approval for a right of way in two months.
"They see what we see when you look out at the future of the United States and the future of offshore wind," Salazar said of the developers of the project, called Atlantic Wind Connection. "There's a lot of opportunity there."
The proposed $5 billion line, planned to stretch 350 miles from Virginia to New Jersey, would be buried under the ocean floor about 10 miles off the Atlantic Coast.
Wind turbines can harness 50 percent to 75 percent more energy there, where winds blow at 15 to 20 mph, according to a study for the Board of Public Utilities.
The line would transmit 6,600 megawatts of wind power, enough to light up about 6 million households.
Google is among its backers - a fact Salazar alluded to, noting the project's partners have significant financial resources.
"We've already gone through, over the last several months, our own internal review and discussion of the proposal," said Tommy P. Beaudreau, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Now the government will seek public comments for two months. But Salazar is ready to go ahead with Atlantic Wind Connection.
"Unless something unexpectedly happens in the next 60 days," he said, "the right-of-way decision will at this point in time be made."
That decision would be followed by an environmental assessment.
Federal officials said they weren't concerned by the decision by NRG Energy, a wind farm developer, not to go ahead with projects because it couldn't find financing for a farm off the coast of Delaware.
"The current economics are not driving this (transmission line review), what's driving this is our commitment to off-shore wind," said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes. "This is a very, very significant long-term play for the United States."
Long term is for sure: The Atlantic Wind Connection is planned to be built in stages over 10 years, according to its developers, and even if all goes well, it might not start construction for a few years.
Federal officials previously announced they would expedite permitting for wind projects in four areas, including one zone off the Jersey Shore from Avalon to near Barnegat Bay, covering about 550 square miles.
Yesterday, officials said they were considering adding priority areas near Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the Carolinas.
"We're positive and optimistic, and the steps that we're taking there are real steps, and there's going to be a lot more in the months ahead," Salazar said.