An environmental report due out by year’s end on a wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound promises answers.
Once the federal draft environmental impact statement hits the streets, both sides in the seven-year fracas over a proposal by Cape Wind Associates to erect 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will dissect it. They will scrutinize the document for an indication of the government’s stance on the project and its particulars.
Cape Wind is the first offshore wind farm in the country to have come this far. The project has cleared several important hurdles but continues to face opposition.
“We hope to have some comment or some review of every topic,” said Glenn Wattley, chief executive officer for the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Wattley said he will first look at economic data and information about alternative sites in the report. He will also look at sections on other sources of renewable energy.
As part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, federal officials transferred review of the project from the Army Corps of Engineers to Minerals Management Service – a division of the U.S. Interior Department.
MMS must issue a draft of its environmental impact statement on the project under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. That’s the document expected out by New Year’s. A public comment period will follow. A final environmental impact statement could be out by the end of 2008.
When the Corps released its 4,000-page environmental report on the project in the autumn of 2004, Wattley and others – including government agencies such as MMS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – criticized it as inadequate.
“Certainly we’ll be looking to see an improvement in the quality of analysis,” Wattley said.
Although it is hard to know in advance what the document will look like, a clear summary up front is important, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said.
Environmental impact statements must include a summary that stresses major conclusions, areas of controversy, including issues raised by agencies and the public, according to regulations issued by the Council on Environmental Quality, the federal agency that oversees NEPA’s implementation. Additionally, the summary must include issues to be resolved and the purpose and need for a project, alternatives analysis and a review of the environment that could be affected.
“I hope we’ll have several people available to read it that first day and start to pull together a response to the document,” Rodgers said.
As the applicant, Cape Wind paid for the report. Rodgers could not say how much it cost the company, but he did say that the figure was in the “millions of dollars.”
Much of the information in the report could come from the Corps report, but MMS should have additional data it gathered on its own, Rodgers said.
The MMS report and the Corps report will be similar but not identical, said Nicolette Nye, spokeswoman for MMS.
“Their information only gets into the construction phase,” she said of the Corps report. “Our analysis includes operations and decommissioning.”
Nye could not say how much of the MMS report would consist of new material.
The draft from MMS will be at least 1,000 pages, she said. It will not include outside reports such as were provided in the Corps document, Nye said.
MMS’s version was originally expected more than a year ago. Rumors continue to fly over whether it will be available before 2008, as predicted by MMS.
The document was actually prepared by a Connecticut-based engineering and environmental consulting firm. The company – TRC Solutions – had to wait for information it needed from Cape Wind, causing part of the delay, according to Nye.
Then in September, when the company sent the first draft to MMS, agency officials were not satisfied with the work, Nye said.
A spokeswoman for TRC said the company could not discuss its work because of contractual obligations to MMS.
TRC turned in a revised draft report to MMS in mid-November. An ongoing legal review is the last step before its release to the public, Nye said.
By Patrick Cassidy
20 December 2007
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