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Capping three years of efforts to develop renewable energy resources on public lands, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar has announced the approval of utility-scale renewable energy projects - one wind and one solar - that, when built, will generate nearly 500 MW of electricity.

Salazar's announcement also represented a major step forward developing an offshore wind transmission line on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, particularly for the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) offshore backbone, a proposal from Atlantic Grid Holdings that would stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia and to connect 7 GW of offshore wind power to the grid.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced today that has opened a public comment period on the potential environmental effects of the proposal and is also asking whether other developers are interested in constructing transmission facilities in this area in order to determine whether there is overlapping competitive interest.

If there is no competitive interest, then the development process will get under way with an environmental review. For a project the size of AWC, an 18-to 24-month environmental review is expected.

The AWC announcement was part of three DOI announcements made by Salazar. In other DOI news, the agency also approved Iberdrola's Tule wind project. Located 70 miles east of San Diego, the project will produce 186 MW of electricity via 62 wind turbines sited on public lands.

Further, Salazar also approved the Sonoran Solar Energy Project, proposed by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, making it the first-ever project approved for construction on public lands in Arizona.

"This demonstrates our commitment to offshore wind. The technology is proven," says David J. Hayes, deputy DOI secretary. "The world is moving toward offshore wind, and this is a very important play in offshore wind."

Hayes also anticipates that the DOI will complete environmental assessment reviews in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in January. Once the reviews are completed, Hayes expects the DOI to grant leases for the development of offshore wind in those states.

The leases are part of the DOI’s Smart from the Start initiative - envisioned to carve months, if not years, from an offshore wind project's permitting timeline.

He also says states such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts are "very far along the process," and that the DOI has received interest from "up and down the Eastern seaboard, from states such as North Carolina, South Carolina and New York."



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