In this Oct. 30, 2002, file photo, a speed boat passes by offshore windmills in the North Sea offshore from the village of Blavandshuk near Esbjerg, Denmark. While the Obama administration has touted offshore renewable energy development, a turf fight between two federal agencies has stymied the government’s ability to issue rules needed to approve wind energy projects off America’s coasts. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday, March 16, 2009, the infighting has got to stop. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)
By WAYNE PARRY
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Windmills off the East Coast could generate enough electricity to replace most, if not all, the coal-fired power plants in the United States, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.
The secretary spoke at a public hearing in Atlantic City on how the nation’s offshore areas can be tapped to meet America’s energy needs.
“The idea that wind energy has the potential to replace most of our coal-burning power today is a very real possibility,” he said. “It is not technology that is pie-in-the sky; it is here and now.”
Offshore energy production, however, might not be limited to wind power, Salazar said. A moratorium on offshore oil drilling has expired, and President Barack Obama and Congress must decide whether to allow drilling off the East Coast.
“We know there are some people who want us to close the door on that,” he said. “We need to look at all forms of energy as we move forward into a new energy frontier.”
Salazar said ocean winds along the East Coast can generate 1 million megawatts of power, roughly the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants. That’s nearly five times more than currently exist in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.
Salazar could not estimate how many windmills might be needed to generate 1 million megawatts of power, saying it would depend on their size, and how near or far from the coast they were located.
Monday’s hearing was hosted by Salazar and is the first of four to be held around the country to discuss how energy resources including oil, gas, wind and waves should be utilized as the new administration formulates its energy policy. It was held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, whose roof-mounted solar energy panels are the largest in the nation.
In 2007, the Outer Continental Shelf, a zone extending roughly three to 200 miles from shore, accounted for 14 percent of the nation’s natural gas production, and 27 percent of its oil production.
Salazar said it is essential that the nation fully exploit renewable energy resources to reduce its reliance on imported oil.
By buying oil from countries hostile to the United States, “we have, in my opinion, been funding both sides in the war on terrorism,” he said.
Environmentalists are urging the Obama administration to bar oil and gas drilling off the East Coast, and invest heavily in wind, solar and other energy technology.
“This is a defining moment, whether we’re going to have a clean energy future or continue to rely on oil drilling,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey director of the Sierra Club. “Right now the government is fossil-foolish, and we need to change that.”
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said offshore drilling should not be allowed, citing the economic cost of a spill.
“The risks are great, the rewards are less,” he said. “It perpetuates our reliance on oil. Frankly, we simply just don’t want it.”
But Skip Hobbs, a petroleum geologist from New Canaan, Conn., said oil and gas drilling has been shown to be safe.
“We should recognize that as a practical matter, fossil fuel will rule for another generation,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the nation needs to drill more, saying “it can be done intelligently.”
“We need to start looking at the self-inflicted energy dependence we have because we refuse to develop our domestic energy industry,” he said.
New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts. That would be 13 percent of New Jersey’s total energy, enough to power between 800,000 to just under 1 million homes.
In October, Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint venture of PSE&G Renewable Generation and Deepwater Wind, was chosen to build a $1 billion, 345 megawatt wind farm in the ocean about 16 miles southeast of Atlantic City. That plant would be able to power about 125,000 homes.
In Atlantic City, the local utilities authority has a wind farm consisting of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes.
Rhode Island Gov. Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, said renewable energy’s appeal crosses partisan lines.
“There is a sense of urgency that we get this moving and get it right,” he said. “There is a national emergency right now; the dependence on oil and natural gas has gone on for too long.”