At the International WorkBoat Show last December, my ears perked up when Matt Paxton of the Shipbuilders Council of America cited “green energy” as a future savior for the shipbuilding industry. He said wind farms were a potential source of new work for shipyards. “This is one of the best things we see coming on the horizon for our industry,” he said at the show. “We will be servicing these things, building ships and maintaining towers.”
I was skeptical, especially considering the uproar over an offshore wind project in Massachusetts. Cape Wind produced a long, costly and divisive battle that lasted eight years and was finally resolved last month when a federal lease was issued for the project.
But wind energy got a significant boost last week when the Obama administration announced a plan to speed development of such projects.
The Interior Department said it would become proactive in the process by identifying desirable places to build windmills rather than waiting for developers to propose often controversial plans that lie in shipping lanes or environmentally sensitive areas. Called Smart from the Start, the initiative will identify sites in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf that promise “high wind potential.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the initiative is “a lesson learned” from the fight over the project in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts.
The new policy will speed the permitting process — which now takes more than seven years — by identifying promising sites and issuing leases within two years. Leases could be granted as early as 2011, he said. Interior will begin next month by working with six states to name sites. A preliminary list is due in January.
“These are areas with high wind potential and with fewer potential conflicts with competing uses,” Salazar said. “If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home.”
Salazar said this will jumpstart Obama’s commitment to create renewable energy on a national scale. Currently only 2 percent of the country’s energy is produced by wind.
Critics note, however, that wind will provide only a drop in the bucket when it comes to meeting America’s insatiable energy appetite. And it will drive up utility costs, they say, and ruin coastal landscapes.
But at least it’s a step in the right direction of finding alternate sources to the country’s dependence on foreign oil. And in the process, it could help U.S. shipyards that have been slowed by the recession.