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Salazar vows to speed wind energy projects

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday he would speed approval of offshore wind farms and identify the most promising areas of the Atlantic coast to located turbines for power generation.

“The wind potential off the Atlantic Coast is staggering,” Salazar said, standing at the water’s edge beside Fort McHenry.

He estimated the old system would take seven to nine years to move wind projects through his department, a figure he called “unacceptable.” Cape Wind, off Massachusetts, signed the first offshore wind farm lease in U.S. waters on Oct. 6 after spending eight years in the regulatory pipeline.

Salazar said the accelerated process could lead to leases being issued in 2011 and 2012, with those already under consideration off the Delaware and New Jersey coasts among the first.

Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said Salazar’s plan will spur more investment in wind energy from companies wary of the lead time required for wind projects under the old system.

“It is the signal we’ve been looking for and waiting for,” Lanard said. “We’re going to have the regulatory certainty.”

Maryland has already scouted the prime areas for wind farms, and together with the Department of the Interior is seeking developers.

Maryland Energy Administration Director Malcolm Woolf said Tuesday he doesn’t expect his federal counterparts to alter the state’s map, which covers 274 square miles of open water and comes as close as 10 miles to Ocean City.

“The area we proposed is far bigger than we need,” Woolf said.

The Interior Department is already shaping the areas for wind farm development off the coasts of New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and will identify others in 2011 off New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

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