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Regulators give go-ahead for offshore wind farms

WASHINGTON — The federal government has cleared the way for developers to plant wind farms in offshore waters on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The regulations were published Wednesday afternoon in the federal register and promoted by President Barack Obama at an Earth Day speech on a wind farm in Newton, Iowa.

They lay out the rules for leasing, siting, permitting and building wind turbines and other types of renewable energy in federal waters, at least three miles offshore.

Wednesday's announcement was welcomed by both environmental groups and companies who have long wanted to develop wind energy offshore.

"We're very encouraged," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana, an international marine conservation group based in Washington. She said the organization long has wanted to reduce the use of fossil fuels because of climate change's impact on the oceans.

She said, however, that work should move forward carefully.

"We support wind energy," Savitz said. "It doesn't mean we want to go willy-nilly in planting wind farms everywhere. They should go through the normal environmental impact process."

Potential hazards for the wind turbines, which can tower 300 feet or more, include hurricanes, the threat of bird strikes and the potential impact on military training that occurs in the Atlantic, said Dennis Scanlin, a senior research scientist with the Energy Center at Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C.

The publication of the federal rule Wednesday follows years of work in the Bush administration to begin developing the regulations.

Michael Olsen, a former Bush Interior Department official, said the rules will allow projects to move ahead in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

"This is very significant," said Olsen, a lawyer for the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, who represents a wind energy company called Deepwater. That company is working in Rhode Island.

"There are companies right now ready to go," Olsen said.

The federal rule runs more than 500 pages long and includes details about not only wind but also projects to capture wave and ocean current energy, known as hydrokinetics.

"This will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy," Obama said in his Iowa speech.

In a plan similar to some offshore oil and gas drilling leases, states would get about 27 percent of the revenues sent to the federal government from offshore wind and hydrokinetics leases.

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