If the nascent offshore wind industry needed a boost of federal support, it surely received one from U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar, who took the stage Tuesday with an upbeat message.
Speaking at the opening session of the American Wind Energy Association's Offshore Windpower Conference & Exhibition in Baltimore, Salazar told attendees, ‘Offshore wind's brightest days are still ahead of us, and we are going to stand up offshore wind turbines in the U.S.’
Responding to negative media reports surrounding bankrupt solar company Solyndra, a down economy and a tough financing market, Salazar urged attendees to forge ahead.
‘I don't back down – and Barack Obama does not back down,’ he said, adding that claims that renewable energy is just the latest fad are ‘greatly exaggerated.’
Salazar explained to attendees that the DOI's Smart from the Start initiative – envisioned to carve months, if not years, from an offshore wind project's permitting timeline – continues to make progress and that within the next month, the DOI could grant the U.S.' second offshore wind lease. (Cape Wind received the first U.S. offshore wind lease in October 2010.)
Later, during a question-and-answer session with the media, Salazar said that the DOI could issue as many as five offshore wind leases in 2012. ‘The exact number I can't tell at this point,’ he stated.
Before Salazar addressed the packed crowd, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley outlined the enormous potential for offshore wind in Maryland, particularly for manufacturers and component suppliers. For example, a vibrant supply-chain industry could mean 2,100 manufacturing and construction jobs annually, which O'Malley says could pump $1.9 billion annually into the state's economy.
However, Maryland's offshore wind potential goes beyond the supply chain. In fact, O'Malley says federal efforts to fast-track offshore wind resulted in Maryland recently being approved to issue a request for interest to develop offshore wind projects off its coast.
Offshore wind also enjoys popular support in the state; a recent study found that 62% of Marylanders are in favor of offshore wind development in their state.
Nonetheless, all of the goodwill does not erase the harsh realities facing the industry, O'Malley cautioned.
‘Our greatest challenges are political, and we can't sugarcoat those realities," he said, citing the end of the loan-guarantee program and the expiration of the Section 1603 cash-grant program.
Urging attendees to think creatively, O'Malley explained how – by bundling the electricity needs of state agencies and universities – the state was able to sign long-term power purchase agreements for two wind farms totaling 65 MW.