Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stood together in Norfolk, Va., this week to announce a new project to speed up the development of offshore wind energy development in the United States.

The strategic plan between the two federal agencies commits up to $50.5 million in research and development funding over the next five years to projects that will support offshore wind power projects in high-priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic.

"Offshore wind energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify our energy supply, and stimulate economic revitalization," said Chu in announcing the initiative. "The Department of Energy is committed to working with our federal partners to provide national leadership in accelerating offshore wind energy deployment."

The Department of Energy has a goal of deploying enough offshore wind farms to generate 54 gigawatts of electricity by 2030, at a cost of energy of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), with an interim target of 10 gigawatts of capacity deployed by 2020, at a cost of energy of 10 cents per kWh.

"The mid-Atlantic wind energy areas are a key part of our 'Smart from the Start' program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America's waters," said Salazar. The plan identifies several sites off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, with additional sites likely to be identified later this year.

The Strategic Work Plan for the initiative includes three components: technology development ($25 million of the total budget); studying and removing "market barriers," including environmental risk reduction and supply chain development (up to $18 million in the next three years); and up to $7.5 million to develop and refine next-generation drivetrains, one of the major components of wind-turbine technology.

"Through the Strategic Work Plan, the United States is synchronizing new research and development initiatives with more efficient, forward-thinking planning so that we can help quickly stand up an American offshore wind industry," said Salazar. "This initiative will spur the type of innovation that will help us create new jobs, build a clean energy future, and compete and win in the technologies of the 21st century." 

State officials were quick to praise the announcement. "We applaud the decision to substantially shorten the permitting process in a way that will allow project developers to attract the investment necessary to support offshore wind projects," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in a statement, quoted in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Also this week, the British government gave approval to the area's largest offshore wind farm to date, which will include 77 turbines five miles off the Yorkshire coast, the BBC reports. Energy company E.ON, which will build and operate the turbines, says construction will begin within the next two years and be completed in an additional three to five years.

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