Feds Fast-Track Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy

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    The U.S. Department of Energy said Monday it intends to spend $50 million to speed the development of offshore wind farms, with a goal of issuing leases off four Atlantic Coast states by the end of the year.

    The Interior Department said sites along the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey have been identified for potential wind farms in an effort to help meet President Barack Obama's goal of generating 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

    Those states will receive expedited environmental reviews to help fast-track the projects.

    In November, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed to spur offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean by expediting permits and identifying promising areas for wind power to avoid potential conflicts.

    Calls to streamline the process came after an eight-year review process that finally resulted in a lease for the nation's first wind farm, off the coast of Massachusetts, was signed in October.

    The Cape Wind project there faced opposition from two Indian tribes, some environmentalists and residents, who argued it threatened marine life as well as maritime traffic and industry. They also said the windmills could mar the ocean view.

    Each of the four sites identified Monday are off major tourist destinations, including Atlantic City, N.J., Ocean City, Md., and Virginia Beach, Va.

    However, Salazar said the wind farms would be between 10 to 20 miles offshore -- far enough that beach-going vacationers wouldn't have their views ruined.

    Potential wind project sites in the north Atlantic will be identified in March. Sites in the south Atlantic states will be identified this spring.

    States would receive 27 percent of total revenues collected by the federal government for projects in federal waters, at least 3 miles offshore.