The developer of a Nantucket Sound wind energy project hopes to begin producing clean energy by 2010, after winning final state environmental approval yesterday, but the project still faces a major remaining hurdle: an expansive federal government review.
The Interior Department plans to release a draft report next month, but will not finish its review until early next year. And well-funded opponents, who have dogged the project for six years, waging legal and political warfare in efforts to derail it, are likely to challenge the permits required to build the wind turbines off the Cape and Islands.
Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles concluded yesterday that the wind farm developer’s final environmental impact report complies with state environmental law and that the project’s environmental benefits will offset its negative impact. The wind farm would produce so much clean energy, displacing power now produced by burning climate-warming fossil fuels, that it would be tantamount to taking 175,000 cars off the road, Bowles said.
“Global climate change, sea level rise, dependence on foreign oil, and the health impacts of local and regional air pollution create an urgent need for sustainable alternatives to energy produced from fossil fuels,” Bowles wrote in the state’s certificate approving the Cape Wind project. “While new technologies are not without impacts themselves, these pale in comparison to the scale of impacts that continued fossil fuel emissions will have on the environment of Massachusetts.”
Governor Deval Patrick, who supported the project during his campaign, issued a statement yesterday saying he views Cape Wind as “an important symbol of our commitment to clean energy.”
Opponents, who believe that Nantucket Sound is the wrong location for the nation’s first offshore wind farm, said the approval was driven more by the Patrick administration’s energy philosophy than the project’s merits.
The decision “shows a willingness on the part of the administration to sacrifice Nantucket Sound to advance a political agenda on the renewable energy front,” said Susan Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
At a press conference, Bowles said Cape Wind’s final environmental impact report was approved on the technical merits, but added that his agency has a longstanding policy of promoting renewable energy, which he said the Commonwealth now has an “obligation to its citizens” to pursue.
The state does not have final authority over the project because it would be located more than 3 miles offshore, in federal waters. As a result, state scrutiny was technically limited to the transmission cables that would cross state waters to deliver the wind turbines’ power to land.
The state’s jurisdiction over the project is so limited that in 2005, the administration of Governor Mitt Romney, who opposed the project, approved a draft version of Cape Wind’s plan, though reluctantly and with demands for additional studies.
Opponents believe that the project’s 440-foot-tall wind turbines would mar the landscape, threaten Cape and Islands tourism, interfere with fishing and recreation, kill birds, and industrialize Nantucket Sound.
Bowles addressed the last concern at a press conference yesterday, saying the waterways have always been used for industrial and commercial purposes, from whaling to fishing to recreational sailing. “The idea that this is a pristine wilderness turns a blind eye to the history of the area,” Bowles said.
Cape Wind president Jim Gordon has said the project would not harm tourism and would have limited impact on wildlife.
Gordon has spent nearly six years and roughly $30 million trying to advance his plan to build 130 wind turbines on a 25-square-mile area of Nantucket Sound known as Horseshoe Shoals. The wind farm could produce an average of 79 percent of the Cape and Islands’ daily power needs, with no pollution released, Gordon said. In the last six years, 10 offshore European wind farms have received permits and 20 more have been proposed, Gordon said.
“We’re behind on a global scale, and we shouldn’t be,” Gordon said. “I mean, for a country that produces 25 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this world with 5 percent of the population, we need to get moving.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers issued a favorable draft review of the Cape Wind project for the federal government in November 2004. But with a flurry of offshore wind farms being proposed, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore oil drilling, the lead role in reviewing proposed offshore wind farms.
Minerals Management decided to conduct its own environmental review of Cape Wind, further delaying the project. A draft report is expected by the agency next month, but a final report, the last major step for the project, will not be released until at least early 2008, said Minerals Management spokesman Gary Strasburg.
Opponents cannot appeal the award of the state environmental certificate. However, Nickerson said they also could challenge the issuance of permits needed to build the wind farm.
Among the state and local approvals Cape Wind needs are a construction permit from the Massachusetts Highway Department, permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and orders from the Barnstable and Yarmouth conservation commissions.
As part of the environmental impact review, Cape Wind offered the state $10 million in measures to mitigate the environmental impact of the project, including $780,000 for the restoration of Bird Island, an important nesting habitat in Buzzards Bay for endangered roseate terns, which opponents said would be threatened by turbine blades.
Cape Wind projects that up to 260 birds of all species would be killed by the wind farm each year. Bowles countered that the most dire threat that birds face comes from global warming, which Cape Wind would help begin to address.
By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff
31 March 2007
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