U.S. touts wind power

April 03, 2009|By Jim Tankersley | Jim Tankersley,Tribune Washington Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. -Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current electricity demand, the Interior Department reported Thursday.

Simply harnessing the wind in relatively shallow waters - the most accessible and technically feasible sites for offshore turbines - could produce at least 20 percent of the power demand for most coastal states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, unveiling a report by the department's Minerals Management Service that details the potential for oil, gas and renewable development on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The biggest wind potential lies off the Atlantic Coast, which the report estimates could produce 1,000 gigawatts of electricity - enough to meet a quarter of the national demand. The report also notes large potential in the Pacific, including off the California coast, but in much deeper waters that could pose increased challenges for turbines.

Salazar told the attendees at the 25x25 Summit, a collection of agriculture and energy representatives exploring ways to cut carbon dioxide emissions, that "we are only beginning to tap the potential" of offshore renewable energy.

The report is a step in the Obama administration's process to chart a course for offshore energy development, an issue that crested last year amid high oil prices with the chants of "Drill, baby, drill" at the Republican National Convention.

Critics have accused President Barack Obama and Salazar of dragging their feet on new oil and gas drilling, and Thursday's report does little to rebut them. It includes no new estimates of potential oil and gas reserves offshore and notes that some of the existing estimates are based on 25-year-old seismic studies.

Meeting with reporters after his speech, Salazar said he would wait to decide whether to commission new seismic studies until after he convenes a series of offshore energy hearings, which begin next week in Atlantic City, N.J. Drilling advocates say updated estimates could show even more offshore oil potential.

In contrast, Salazar said he expected a push to expedite offshore wind development to be one of the most significant aspects at the hearings. He pledged to conclude the drawing up of rules guiding such development in about two months.

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