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Wind farm faces serious hurdles; State review outlines proposal's risks


By BECKY W. EVANS, Standard-Times staff writer

Boston developer Jay Cashman’s proposed wind farm in Buzzards Bay faces more significant hurdles than other major coastal wind projects reviewed by the state, according to Bay State environmental secretary Stephen R. Pritchard.
In a certificate commenting on the environmental notification form Mr. Cashman submitted to the state in May, the secretary concluded that “the proponent proceeds at risk of denial of required permits on completion” of the state’s environmental review of the project.
South Coast Wind calls for the construction of 90 to 120 turbines in the sensitive bay, which is part of the Cape and Islands Ocean Sanctuary. According to the certificate, the project is prohibited under the state’s Ocean Sanctuaries Act, which bans the “building of any structure on the seabed or under the subsoil,” as well as “the construction or operation of offshore or floating electric generating stations.”
Endangered roseate terns, which nest and feed on several islands in the bay, could also doom the project, Mr. Pritchard wrote. If studies prove that the state and federally protected birds could be killed or displaced by the spinning 400-foot turbines, the 300-megawatt project would not be approved.
“There are a lot of warning flags here for the proponent to think about the location and the size of the project,” Rep. William Straus, D- Mattapoisett, said after reviewing the certificate.
In the 23-page document, Mr. Pritchard outlined a comprehensive list of the various avian, navigational and environmental studies that Patriot Renewables – a renewable energy subsidiary of Jay Cashman Inc. – must perform as part of the state-required draft environmental impact report.
The Coalition for Buzzards Bay, which has been highly critical of the proposed wind project, released a statement praising the certificate for reflecting “the seriousness by which the project needs to be reviewed. It is clear that Jay Cashman has substantial hurdles to overcome and the coalition, on behalf of its members and the bay, will continue to monitor the project’s progress.”
Despite the document’s strong warnings, a spokesman for Mr. Cashman said the company was pleased with its recommendations and planned to move forward with its $750 million project.
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“We’re actually quite happy with it,” said Todd Presson, Patriot Renewables’ director of wind energy development. “It addresses all the issues and lots of environmental issues that have to be looked at but were to be expected.”
The concerns regarding endangered roseate terns and the ocean sanctuary came as no surprise, Mr. Presson said.
“I think we’ve been really clear about recognizing that avian issues are a major concern,” he said, noting that the company has already begun boat-based surveys to count and identify birds that fly in the bay during the fall migration.
Mr. Presson referred to the Ocean Sanctuary Act’s language as “very ambiguous” and said he hopes the law will be interpreted to allow at least some windmills offshore.
Mr. Pritchard wrote that he agreed with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s interpretation that the only exemptions allowed under the law are for those “involving electric transmission cables and natural gas pipelines that support electric generating facilities located outside of an ocean sanctuary.”
The state received many public comments on South Coast Wind both in favor and against the renewable energy project, according to the certificate. Some people commented that it was a waste of time and money for Patriot Renewables to proceed with the environmental review before determining if the project will be acceptable under the Ocean Sanctuaries Act.
Proceeding with the necessary environmental studies is important so that the developer can “understand what the project will look like,” Mr Presson said. He estimated that it will take the company “a year or two” to complete and submit the draft environmental impact report.
Vanessa Gulati, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, said there is no deadline for the report.
“There isn’t a rush,” she said. “We want them to take enough time to address the issues.”
Mr. Cashman was on vacation and unable to be reached for comment, spokeswoman Elizabeth M. Isherwood said.
“He’s not on the mainland right now,” Mr. Presson said.
Contact Becky W. Evans
at revans@s-t.com