The U.S. government will be putting $50.5 million to grow offshore wind energy in the U.S., with a goal of deploying 10 gigawatts of offshore capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the initiative today, which aims to spur growth in offshore wind development. It’s an area that has been predicted to be slow in growth, although the government started plugging it last year ahead of President Obama’s call last month for 80 percent clean energy by 2035. Last year, Salazar said the Department of the Interior would be streamlining permits for offshore wind projects, and today he outlined “wind energy areas” off the coasts off New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.

Offshore wind also got a high-profile boost last year from Google, which, along with Good Energies, took a majority stake in the initial phase of what will become a billion-dollar project to build a transmission cable to serve and spur development of offshore wind on the Atlantic Coast.

The benefit of offshore wind is that it removes the unsightly turbines from sight, easing complaints from environmentalists and homeowners that the turbines spoil scenery and lower property values. Wind typically blows steadier and stronger offshore. But offshore wind projects are expensive and, in the case of New England’s proposed Cape Wind project, have sparked heated opposition. The project currently has several lawsuits filed against it, has become the subject of a documentary film and has raised the ire of residents over the environmental impact and  potential increases in electricity rates.

The Department of Energy’s offshore wind deployment goals include development on the Pacific and Gulf Coasts in addition to the Great Lakes and Hawaiian areas. If goals are met, then the U.S. would generate enough offshore wind energy to power 2.8 million average American homes by 2020 and 15.2 million homes by 2030, according to a Department of the Interior statement.

The money will be allocated to three areas — technology development, in particular advancements that may bring costs down ($25 million over five years), research to remove market barriers such as environmental risk reduction, supply chain development and transmission planning ($18 million over three years) and next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains ($7.5 million over three years).

[Image via Flickr/phault]