The state’s top environmental official has signed off on the Cape Wind project, delivering a significant victory to supporters of the proposal to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Ian Bowles, the secretary of Environmental Affairs, announced yesterday that the ”final state environmental impact report” filed by Cape Wind ”adequately and properly complies” with state environmental guidelines.
Cape Wind also needs federal approval for the project, which would place off-white turbines, standing as high as 440 feet, on 25 square miles of the Sound.
Although the turbines would be placed in federal waters, the transmission lines would run through state waters to the shore, giving state and local agencies some jurisdiction over the project.
Bowles’ decision clears the way for the company to seek state and local permits.
The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick has made alternative energy a priority, and Bowles couched his decision in terms of a broader push to fight global warming and dependence on foreign oil. ”The commonwealth has an obligation to its citizens to promote development of renewable energy,” he said.
As part of the environmental report, Cape Wind agreed to a $10 million state mitigation package.
The package includes $780,000 for the restoration of Bird Island, a prime nesting habitat in Buzzards Bay for terns, $4.2 million for natural resource and marine habitat restoration, and $5.6 million in federal lease payments over 20 years.
But opponents of the Cape Wind project said Bowles’ decision ignored threats to commercial fishing and maritime safety. And given Gov. Patrick’s outspoken support for the project, they suggested politics may have prevented an evenhanded review of the proposal. Bowles was appointed by Patrick in December.
”There are certainly politics involved in this,” Charles Vinick, president and chief executive officer of The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said in a telephone interview.
Bowles said he had no substantive conversations with the governor about the environmental review and insisted that politics played no role in his decision.
”We decided it on the merits, straight up,” he said.
Bowles’ decision came 37 days after Cape Wind filed its hefty report, a state-mandated document based on research paid for by the company. It weighs the impact of the proposed wind farm on everything from sea turtles and eel grass to views of the Sound.
The report now becomes the go-to document for a thicket of state, regional and local agencies, including the Cape Cod Commission and the towns of Barnstable and Yarmouth, which must review the project and, in some cases, issue permits.
Opponents have vowed to fight Cape Wind applications for state and local permits. But with the Bowles decision, the focus shifts to Washington, where the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency with jurisdiction over the project, is conducting an extensive environmental review of its own. A draft report from the federal agency is due at the end of April.
If the federal agency ultimately approves the project, construction could begin next year, with completion expected in 2010. Cape Wind officials say the project would meet nearly three-quarters of the Cape and Islands’ power needs.
So far, the project has cost $30 million, said Jim Gordon, president of Energy Management Inc., the parent company of Cape Wind.
When first proposed in 2000, the total estimate was about $100 million. Gordon would not comment yesterday on what the ultimate cost might be now.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose Hyannisport family compound overlooks the Sound, has raised concerns about the effects the first-in-the-nation offshore wind farm might have on the environment and maritime safety. But it is unclear, at this point, what congressional opponents might do to stall or kill the project.
Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Kennedy, said his office will await the outcome of various federal reviews before planning any further steps.
Gordon said at a press conference in his downtown Boston offices that he hoped the federal agencies reviewing the project would take note of the Bowles decision.
In the meantime, Bowles’ announcement is a significant step forward for Massachusetts, he said. ”If we can move expeditiously,” he said, ”Massachusetts can become a global leader in offshore renewable energy.”
By David Scharfenber
31 March 2007
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