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 April 02, 2012
Obama edges forward with plans for Great Lakes wind farms

 The Obama administration has taken a major step towards establishing the first offshore wind farms on the Great Lakes, after five states signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the federal government late last week designed to streamline the regulatory regime faced by developers.

Long-standing plans to deploy offshore wind farms capable of tapping the estimated 700GW of wind energy capacity available on the Great Lakes have consistently faltered in the face of environmental concerns, planning barriers and public opposition.

However, the administration remains committed to easing the "red tape" restricting prospective developers and on Friday announced that 10 federal agencies would work with Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania to develop a more coherent regulatory regime that could allow projects to proceed while still addressing environmental concerns.

The three remaining Great Lakes states, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, were invited to sign the MoU but declined to join the group. However, an administration official told the Associated Press that they could still sign up to the MoU at a later date.

The agreement is modelled on an earlier partnership between the administration and a group of states on the Eastern Seaboard designed to similarly streamline planning rules for wind farms off the Atlantic coast.

"The goal ... is to cut through red tape so we can efficiently and responsibly evaluate offshore wind projects that have the potential to create American jobs and reduce pollution in our communities," explained Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The agreement should make it easier for a proposed demonstration project near Cleveland to move forward, although any new projects are likely to face significant opposition.

A number of previous projects have been shelved in recent years amid fears over impacts on birds and fish, while the Canadian state of Ontario last year ordered a moratorium on offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes waters it holds jurisdiction over.

In related news, Maryland's lower house reportedly approved a new offshore wind energy bill that will provide subsidies for up to 200MW of new offshore capacity.

The move represents a major boost for the fledgling US offshore wind industry, which to date has only seen one project approved for construction off the coast of Nantucket.

However, the bill is significantly less ambitious than had been originally hoped by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who was forced to water down the proposals in the face of opposition over the potential cost of the subsidies.

In other news, industry news site Recharge has reported that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is scrapping plans for a new wind turbine manufacturing plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

A spokesman for the company told the site that plans for the new facility had been shelved in response to "stagnant" demand in the US wind energy market, adding that the company would instead look to accelerate its investment in Japan's offshore wind energy market.