US government clears four areas off- Atlantic coast for wind power development

In a bid to help launch offshore wind power in the US, the Obama administration said yesterday it was going ahead with leasing four areas off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

According to interior secretary Ken Salazar, federal environmental reviews for "wind energy areas" off Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia were now complete and "no significant environmental impacts" had been found from their development. With the development the way for companies to seek leases was now clear. A similar announcement for the Massachusetts coast is expected today.

"The wind potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering, and no developer should have to wait nine to 10 years to get a lease," Salazar told reporters. He added the goal was to hold auctions and issue leases this year.

Wind power had expanded quickly in the US - up 33 per cent annually in each of the past five year period the growth was limited to onshore. Offshore projects had been proposed, but none was operational or under construction. Only one, Cape Wind in Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound, had been approved following a decade of wrangling.

According to Dominion Virginia Power, it was interested in building offshore turbines but cost was an issue. Mary Doswell, a senior vice president of the state's largest electric utility, said in the absence of tax credits, power from the turbines cost around 28 cents per kilowatt hour, while the utility's rates ran 11 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

She added, wind was a great resource, and one could do it with scale, but the cost equation had got to be worked out.