The Obama administration recently announced a strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind by announcing more than $50 million in new research and development funding. The Department of Energy ("DOE") will spend $25 million toward the development of innovative wind turbines and design tools; $18 million toward optimizing the wind and electric markets, and transmission and planning; and $7.5 million on developing next-generation, more cost-effective designs for wind turbine drivetrains.

In addition, the Obama administration identified four high-priority "Wind Energy Areas"-offshore Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia-which will receive accelerated environmental reviews. If no significant impacts are identified, leases could be offered to developers by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement ("BOEMRE") by the end of 2011 or early 2012. It is anticipated that later this month, additional high-priority areas will be identified off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A similar process will occur later this spring for the South Atlantic, particularly North Carolina. Eventually, locations in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and Hawaii will likewise be identified. Projects in these designated areas will enjoy a fast-track permitting process. Comprehensive site-specific National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") review will remain the responsibility of developers, but BOEMRE will work with project managers to ensure accelerated review schedules. Under the current regulatory environment, it takes anywhere from seven to ten years to receive approvals and fully permit an offshore wind project-slightly more than double the amount of time it takes to permit an offshore oil or natural gas platform-and the Obama administration wants to cut this period in half.

Under the National Offshore Wind Strategy, the DOE is pursuing the development of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind-generating capacity by 2020, and 54 gigawatts by 2030. This would produce enough energy to power 2.8 million and 15.2 million American homes, respectively.

However, federal incentives and programs alone will not be sufficient to jump-start development of offshore wind projects, as state and federal laws share control over offshore wind siting approval and permitting. State and local interests are most immediately impacted by the environmental concerns, and potentially higher electric rates, of offshore wind projects.