U.S. awards exploratory leases for offshore wind

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - The U.S. government has awarded its first exploratory leases for offshore wind development to three companies that aim to place turbines off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday.

The five leases were awarded to Hoboken, New Jersey-based Deepwater Wind LLC; two units of Babcock & Brown’s Bluewater Wind LLC, and Cape May, New Jersey-based Fisherman’s Energy of New Jersey LLC.

The leases allow the companies to build meteorological towers between six and 18 miles offshore to gather data on wind resources, determine the viability of building three wind farms, and conduct environmental impact studies, Salazar said at a news conference.

The wind farms, which would be built between 16 and 20 miles offshore and consist of up to 100 turbines each, may become the first operating U.S. offshore wind installations, officials said.

“Wind energy off the Atlantic coast is a very significant resource,” Salazar said on a pier overlooking the ocean in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “The technology is proven, effective and available, and can create new jobs for Americans while reducing our expensive and dangerous dependence on foreign oil.”

He added that the success of offshore wind farms in countries such as Britain and Denmark indicates that the United States is well placed to adopt offshore wind power.

“The experience in Europe gives us a lot of confidence that this is a technology that will produce energy in a carbon-free way,” he said.

The proposed wind farms would cost about $1.5 billion each and would each generate some 350 megawatts, or enough electricity to power 120,000 homes, officials said. Construction would begin in 2012 with the first turbines generating power in 2013.

Data collected from the meteorological towers will be used by the Interior Department to inform and support future projects and help coastal states meet government mandates for renewable energy.

For instance, output from the farms would help New Jersey meet its goal of deriving 30 percent of its energy from alternative sources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2020, said Governor Jon Corzine.

In Delaware, Bluewater Wind last year agreed with Delmarva Power, a local utility, to supply up to 200 MW from its offshore installation. Winds off the Delaware coast have the potential to supply enough electricity for up to 1.5 million homes, officials said.

Reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Nichola Groom and Marguerita Choy