An environmental assessment by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found "no significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts" would result from issuing wind energy leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf areas, including zones off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, the Interior Department announced.
Calling the move a major milestone for offshore wind energy along the Atlantic Coast, the Interior Department said it echoes U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union call for an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy.
"When it comes to powering our nation's homes, businesses and economy, we need to take an all-of-the-above approach to safely and responsibly developing our domestic energy resources," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement.
"Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we're moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects."
The Obama administration aims to have 10 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030. The Energy Department says 54 gigawatts are enough to power more than 15 million average homes.
There are no wind turbines offshore of the United States, but Energy Management Inc.'s Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts, rated to produce up to 468 megawatts of wind power, was approved in 2010.
About 3 percent of the nation's electricity is generated from land-based wind turbines.
Environmental and industry groups welcomed Interior's environmental finding.
"Harnessing the wind blowing off our shores will allow us to power American homes with clean, domestic energy -- and create tens of thousands of badly-needed jobs in the process," Kit Kennedy, Clean Energy counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
"It's time to capture this untapped potential and for the offshore wind industry to take flight in the mid-Atlantic.
Still, Kennedy said NRDC would review documents released Thursday by federal authorities to ensure that "appropriate environmental protections and mitigation measures" have been incorporated.
The Offshore Wind Development Coalition said the Interior's environmental assessment finding means that the permitting time line for offshore wind farms could be reduced by as much as two years and represents "a critical step in the establishment of the U.S. offshore wind industry, which will create thousands of high skilled jobs and allow for billions of dollars in investment."
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