The federal agency overseeing the Cape Wind project announced last evening that it has pushed back the release of its highly anticipated environmental review from late April to ”late summer.”
The delay means a final decision on the proposed wind farm, which would comprise 130 turbines over a 25-square-mile area of Nantucket Sound, will be pushed from April 2008 to the fall of 2008.
The agency, the Minerals Management Service, said in a statement from Washington, D.C., that its ”internal review” of the project was ”taking longer than originally expected.”
It was unclear last night how the delays would affect Cape Wind Associates, the Boston-based company behind the proposal.
Until yesterday, the company planned to secure financing for the project in the first quarter of 2008 and complete construction by the end of 2010. But with a final decision on the project pushed back, financing and construction delays seem likely.
Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, declined to discuss the long-term implications of the delay last night. But he did say, in a statement, that Cape Wind was ”hopeful that the federal review will move as quickly as possible so the public can begin receiving the energy, economic and environmental benefits of this project.”
The setback for Cape Wind came less than a week after a significant victory. Ian Bowles, the Massachusetts environmental affairs secretary, announced March 30 that he had signed off on a state-level environmental review of the project.
Supporters of the project, who say the wind farm will represent a clean energy alternative to fossil fuel power, hailed Bowles’s decision as a major step forward.
But critics argued the secretary’s review was inadequate. And last night, Susan Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the wind farm, said the delays in the federal review suggest a more thorough review is under way in Washington.
”It certainly shows that the project is far from getting approved,” she said.
Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who opposes the project, said in a statement that ”Senator Kennedy is hopeful that the federal review will address the substantial safety, navigation, fishing and environmental concerns that this project presents.”
A federal law approved in August 2005 shifted federal regulatory control over the project from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Minerals Management Service, best known for overseeing offshore oil and natural gas fields.
The agency has been moving, since then, to create a regulatory framework for the relatively novel field of offshore alternative energy.
Last month the agency released a draft ”programmatic environmental impact statement” outlining, in general terms, the impacts of offshore alternative energy projects using wind, waves and current.
That review found, among other things, that wind farms built in appropriate locations will have ”negligible to minor” impacts on the environment.
That review is to guide the development of the first comprehensive set of regulations governing offshore alternative energy projects.
But the Minerals Management Service announced last night that those rules, like the decision on Cape Wind, will be delayed to the fall of 2008 while the agency explores the ”new frontier” of offshore alternative energy.
By David Sharfenberg
6 April 2007
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