Washington —- In moves that could potentially change the Georgia coast, the Obama administration is making wind energy development off Atlantic states a major priority
At the same time, it wants to update studies to determine the viability of oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.
At a renewable energy conference here Thursday, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar released parts of a new report that shows wind turbines off the Atlantic coastline could generate enough energy to supply one-fourth of the nation’s electricity needs.
“We know we have huge wind energy potential” in the Atlantic, Salazar told reporters afterward. “This will be a high priority for us.”
The best potential for wind energy is probably off Delaware, Massachusetts and other Northeastern states, Salazar said.
But “there is significant potential in the Southern Atlantic states as well for wind energy,” he added.
Salazar said the country also needs to update seismic studies of the Atlantic seafloor that in many cases are 25 years old or older.
The studies are the first step in determining the viability of offshore oil and gas drilling.
The prospect of drilling off the coast of Georgia has pitted environmentalists and many coastal property owners against the energy industry and politicians who support more offshore drilling.
Last month, Georgia’s Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss joined 32 other Senate Republicans to urge President Barack Obama to speed up plans for offshore oil and gas development. Many of Georgia’s representatives in the House also support offshore oil exploration, and Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he’s for it too.
Groups such as Environment Georgia, however, say the state’s coastline is too fragile and important to chance an oil spill.
Thursday, Environment Georgia policy advocate Jennette Gayer greeted Salazar’s statements as a double-edged sword.
“Our position is that we really need to start transitioning into an energy future that relies on renewables, and the only way we can do that is by pursuing things like wind off the coast,” Gayer said.
But looking for oil would be “sustaining our addiction,” she said.
Developing wind power off the coast is fraught with problems, even if the government wants it.
Two years ago, Atlanta-based Southern Co. and Georgia Tech produced a study that found wind energy production off the Georgia coast was viable but too expensive.
Southern Co. spokeswoman Valerie Holpp said the costs haven’t changed since then.
“There are economic, regulatory and technical issues that still have to be resolved over time,” Holpp said.
She added that Southern Co. has applied for leases to build three “net towers” off of Savannah that will measure wind as it continues to study the feasibility of offshore wind turbines.