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CNHI News Service

July 26, 2012

U.S. prepares to lease huge tracts off East Coast for windmill farms

The federal government is poised to auction to wind farm developers 2,434 square miles of the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean, which would allow wind farms to sprout 10 miles off the shores of six states, from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Extensive efforts are underway to avoid the fiasco of the first proposed offshore wind farm in U.S. waters. That 24-square mile project off the coast of Cape Cod unleashed a fierce, decade-long battle that still lingers in the courts. Although Europe has had offshore wind farms for many years, the United States remains without even one.

The plan to auction leases to offshore wind farm developers represents an enormous commitment to a potentially vast new industry.

Much is at stake: Wind turbines in the Atlantic alone could generate more than 1,000 gigawatts of power, an amount equal to the country's current total energy-generating capacity, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), part of the Interior Department.

The area to be leased is about the size of Delaware. Included are 125 square miles off the coast of Maryland, 161 square miles off Delaware and 176 square miles off Virginia. Leases will also be auctioned off the coast of New Jersey and Rhode Island, but the lion's share — 1,161 square miles — is off Massachusetts. The auction is planned before the end of this year; an exact date hasn't yet been set.

The legal battles and political wrangling over the relatively tiny Cape Wind project seem never-ending. This time, however, as the federal government tries to jump-start a homegrown, renewable energy source, it is anticipating and trying to address in advance every possible objection.

"There were many lessons learned from Cape Wind. Try not to build too close to billionaires that like to go sailing in Nantucket Sound was one of them," said Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, an organization that represents eight major developers.

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