The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) unveiled a coordinated strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy, including new funding opportunities for up to $50.5 million. The joint National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States is the first-ever interagency plan on offshore wind energy. The departments also named several high priority “wind-energy areas” in the Mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of wind energy. The initiatives are part of the DOI’s “Smart from the Start” program, announced in November; it is designed to speed appropriate commercial--scale wind-energy development. The plan includes deployment of 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 GW by 2030, enough energy to power 2.8 million and 15.2 million average American homes.

The plan focuses on overcoming three key challenges: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; the technical challenges surrounding installation, operations and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting processes. In support of the plan, the DOE is releasing three solicitations, representing up to $50.5 million over 5 years, to develop breakthrough offshore wind-energy technology and to reduce specific market barriers to its deployment. First, the DOE will support the development of innovative wind turbine design tools and hardware to provide the foundation for a cost-competitive U.S. offshore wind industry. The DOE will also support baseline studies and targeted environmental research to characterize key industry sectors and factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind. Finally, the development and refinement of next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains will be funded.

The DOI also identified four wind-energy areas off the Mid-Atlantic states. Part of the Smart from the Start approach, these will benefit from coordinated environmental studies, large-scale planning, and expedited approval processes. The areas on the Outer Continental Shelf—offshore Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia—will receive early environmental reviews that will help to lessen the time required for review.

The DOI expects to identify wind-energy areas off the North Atlantic states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and launch additional environmental reviews for those areas. A similar process will occur for the South Atlantic region, namely North Carolina, to occur this spring.

The DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) will prepare regional environmental assessments for wind-energy areas to evaluate the effects of leasing and site assessment activities on leased areas, and BOEMRE could offer leases in these Mid-Atlantic areas as soon as late 2011 or early 2012.