ARLINGTON, VA. — Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand, the Interior Department reported Thursday.
Simply harnessing the wind in relatively shallow waters -- the most accessible and technically feasible sites for offshore turbines -- could produce at least 20% of the power demand for most coastal states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, unveiling a report by the Minerals Management Service that details the potential for oil, gas and renewable development on the outer continental shelf.
The biggest wind potential lies off the nation's Atlantic coast, which the Interior report estimates could produce 1,000 gigawatts of electricity -- enough to meet a quarter of the national demand.
The report also notes large potential in the Pacific, including off the California coast, but said the area presented technical challenges.
The Interior Department released an executive summary of the report on Thursday.
It noted that "strong wind resources also exist offshore California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, but it appears that the majority of this resource lies in deep waters where technology constraints are potentially significant" -- a sentiment Salazar echoed when asked about Pacific wind potential.
The report also suggests vast oil and gas reserves off the Pacific coast: the equivalent of 10 billion to 18 billion barrels of oil.
Salazar told attendees at the 25x'25 Summit in Virginia, a gathering of agriculture and energy representatives exploring ways to cut carbon dioxide emissions, that "we are only beginning to tap the potential" of offshore renewable energy.
The report is a step in the Obama administration's mission to chart a course for offshore energy development, an issue that gained urgency last year amid high oil prices and chants of "Drill, baby, drill" at the Republican National Convention.
Critics have accused President Obama and Salazar of dragging their feet on new oil and gas drilling, and Thursday's report does little to rebut those complaints.
It includes no new estimates of potential oil and gas reserves offshore and notes that some of the existing estimates are based on 25-year-old seismic studies.
Meeting with reporters after his speech, Salazar said he would wait to decide whether to commission new seismic studies until after he convened a four-stop series of offshore energy hearings, which begin next week in Atlantic City, N.J. In San Francisco, a hearing will be held April 16 at 9 a.m. at the Mission Bay Conference Center at UC San Francisco.
Drilling advocates say updated estimates could show even more offshore oil potential.
In contrast, Salazar said he expected a push to expedite offshore wind development to be one of the most significant aspects at the hearings.
He pledged to finalize guidelines for such development, which the Bush administration failed to complete before leaving office, within about two months.