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Monday, February 13, 2012

White House Fast Tracks Offshore Wind Power

A ship passing the first German windmill offshore power plant in the North Sea. Will the US soon have similar offshore wind projects? (AP)

Right now the U.S. gets about 3 percent of its electricity from wind power.

But all of it comes from windmills on land — none from windmills offshore. Now, in an effort to boost offshore wind use, the White House is setting aside nearly 2,100 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean for development by energy companies– and the administration is doing so in a way that should shave years off the process of getting those offshore wind farms online.

From Massachusetts To Maryland

The new proposed area does not include the Cape Wind project, a proposed wind farm about five miles off the coast of Cape Cod, but it does include other areas in Massachusetts.

“The projects… would be off the coast of five states — Massachusetts and New Jersey I think are the largest areas, and also Maryland and Virginia and Delaware,” Ryan Tracy, energy and environment reporter with the Wall Street Journal told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Generally the farms would be between 10-20 miles off the shore; once farms are 20 miles away, it’s harder to see them from the shore.

How Would It Be Paid For?

Tracy says the biggest question right now is the cost.

“These companies are going to have to overcome a lot of questions about, ‘Are we getting enough benefits in return for these extra costs?’ ” he said.

A Post-Solyndra World

Solyndra was the solar panel maker that filed for bankruptcy after getting more than $527 million in public funds from the Obama administration, and it was a huge embarrassment.

How would frustration over what happened with Solyndra affect approval for offshore wind?

“Wind… does have support from Democrats and Republicans, it’s not as controversial as solar… and a lot of lawmakers… have wind farms in their states,” Tracy said.

“The political question becomes not just can you get people to support the idea but how do you pay for the idea.”

How Much Potential Energy?

“There’s a lot of wind out there, and [if] you can harness all of it you can power millions and millions of homes,” Tracy said.

In Massachusetts, the guestimate is that wind energy could power 70 percent of the state’s homes.

Guest:

  • Ryan Tracy, energy and environment reporter with the Wall Street Journal

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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