Cape Wind closer to a decision

February 16, 2010

More than eight years after the project was announced, the Obama administration is pushing for a final resolution that would allow installation of the first major offshore wind farm in the US.

Threatening to ‘take the steps necessary to bring the permit process to conclusion,’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar set a 1 March deadline for supporters and opponents of the Cape Wind project to reach an agreement. The department could issue a ruling if the parties remain deadlocked.

Cape Wind Associates wants to install 130, 3.6MW wind turbines in the Nantucket Sound offshore Massachusetts. The installation is claimed capable of generating enough electricity to supply about 75% of the energy demand in Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, or about 200,000 households.

Supporters say the project’s approval would clear the way for more offshore wind power along the Atlantic coast and help the US reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But opponents, including some business leaders, politicians and local Native American tribes, have held the project up with charges that it would be unsightly, environmentally damaging and a threat to historical and culturally significant property.

Salazar called for a meeting 13 January between the developers, supporters and the project’s opponents to help hasten an agreement.

In a conference call after the meeting, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon deemed the meeting ‘very constructive’ and praised Salazar’s decision to become ‘personally engaged’ in the issue.

‘We understand that the secretary has to balance the need for renewable energy, greater energy independence, action on climate change and the desire for a new, green economy . . . with the need for historic preservation,’ he said. ‘We’re convinced that after the secretary weighs all the benefits and the impacts of this project that Secretary Salazar will approve the Cape Wind project.’

Backers have ruled out moving the wind farm to an alternative site, as opponents have requested.

The project’s defeat or further delay would be an embarrassment for the Obama administration in its efforts to promote clean energy initiatives at home and project a more environmentally sensitive US image abroad.

Gordon said Cape Wind had offered a number of mitigation measures to try to placate opponents, including reducing the number of turbines from 170, as initially proposed, to 130. Developers also agreed to alter the color scheme and lighting to reduce the turbines’ visibility from shore, reconfigured the site plan to avoid sensitive archeological areas and offered money for historic preservation efforts. So far, he said, opponents have not responded to the concessions.

‘We have engaged in good faith in this stakeholder process,’ he said. ‘We have put a number of mitigation elements on the table, and we look forward to either obtaining a memorandum of understanding from the parties or, if that’s not possible, we’d like the secretary to terminate the consultation and make a decision.’

At stake, Gordon said, is no less than the future of offshore wind in the US.

‘The offshore wind industry is watching this,’ he said. ‘As a result of Cape Wind’s efforts in helping to evolve the regulatory framework for offshore wind in America, there have been other offshore wind developers that are also proposing offshore wind farms up and down the Atlantic coast.’

Approval of the project gives the Obama administration an opportunity to ‘jump start the offshore wind industry in the United States,’ he said. ‘And folks, you know, we’re twenty years behind Europe.’ OE

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