WASHINGTON - The Obama Administration is carving out renewable energy zones across the country and offshore, and is preparing to work with critics who object to wind turbines or solar farms near wilderness or tourist areas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday.
"You have a map that starts out as a very huge map that shows you have the huge potential for solar energy in the Southwest but then you have to overlay that with areas such as national parks and national monuments, where we won't allow any development of renewable energy facilities," Salazar said.
He said planners also will figure out ways to obtain alternative energy while still protecting endangered species.
While the process won't be easy, Salazar said the country needs to develop its huge potential in renewable energy, especially off the Atlantic coast where he forsees rapid development of massive wind farms.
"You are going to see significant conflict over renewable energy and how we site renewable energy facilities," Salazar told Reuters in an interview.
His department is working with the Energy and Agriculture departments to work out locations where renewable projects can be established, as well allocating the high-tech corridors needed to transport green power.
Opponents already have risen up against some proposals, such as an offshore wind farm near Cape Cod in Massachusetts or solar panels covering fields in California's Mojave Desert. Critics charge such plans will blight pristine landscapes.
But Salazar maintained the administration would map out areas that take into consideration local interests.
President Barack Obama has promised to invest $150 billion over 10 years to promote clean and efficient energy, including a doubling of renewable energy production over three years.
Salazar said planning for the new zones are underway but complicated, including for the new transmission lines that will be needed, especially in the East.
"So we have a decent handle on the West but you look at the eastern half of the continental United States and there is a huge amount of work that has to be done in terms of even laying out the concept of how this electronic super highway would work."
He said he sees "huge potential" for development of wind power in the Atlantic ocean, which he said could move quickly ahead.
"There is tremendous interest," he said. "The governors of Delaware, new Jersey and their Congressional delegations have been chomping at the bit to get going on what can be done with renewable energy."
He declined to say whether the controversial $1 billion Cape Wind project would get the final go ahead from the Obama Administration. Its opponents include Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and his wealthy neighbors with shoreline estates.
"We should have answers there by the end of May or early part of June," he said of the project.
The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service found there would be little negative impact from the project involving some 130 wind turbines off the Massachusetts coast that would provide power to 400,000 homes.
Some critics of Cape Wind say it would hurt tourism in the Cape Cod area. But Salazar said aesthetics should not necessarily be an issue with wind generation.
"You can place wind farms that generate significant energy just off the horizon so you don't even have to see them," he said.
(Editing by David Gregorio)