The Nantucket Sound wind farm is poised to pass the most important remaining regulatory test after a federal review found no significant environmental harm associated with the project.
“Any rational observer who reads this report will understand that this project is not going to produce negative environmental impacts,” said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates LLC at a press conference in his Boston offices Monday.
Gordon, who wants to build 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal about a half dozen miles off Cape Cod’s southern shoreline, said he was “extremely pleased” with the report’s findings.
In the draft environmental impact statement on the project released Monday, U.S. Minerals Management Service officials found only “negligible” and “minor” effects across most of the 117 areas they analyzed.
A similarly positive final version of the report that could be out by the fall would open the door for Cape Wind to secure permits and begin construction, barring any changes or successful legal challenges.
While Gordon and Cape Wind’s supporters said the report was a step forward in the battle against global warming and rising energy costs, opponents complained that the document missed the mark.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far, we think this minimal impact position is something we’ll challenge,” said Glenn Wattley, chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a vocal anti-Cape Wind group.
Wattley questioned whether bird studies used for the report were exhaustive enough.
He also pointed out an economic comparison of the alternatives that seemed to indicate the cost of electricity from the project would be significantly higher than current rates.
Gordon dismissed Wattley’s claims. “That is completely false,” he said of the pricing claim. “The project is going to provide long-term value because we don’t have to contend with fuel costs.”
The cost comparison was based on today’s electricity rates and did not account for the volatile fossil fuels market, Gordon said.
The draft document categorized impacts on a scale from negligible to major. Areas where the potential for moderate impacts were noted include effects on marine and coastal birds, the eggs and larvae of bottom dwelling fish, turbidity effects on marine mammals during construction and the view of turbines from shore. Moderate impacts on sailing, including the annual Figawi sailboat race from Hyannis to Nantucket, were also possible, according to the report.
The view from on the water in “close proximity” to the turbines was the only potential major impact cited.
Minerals Management Service officials declined to qualify the report as an approval of Cape Wind.
“It’s the first chance the public is going to be able to see the impact analysis stemming from this proposal,” said Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the agency’s Alternative Energy and Alternative Use Program.
Minerals Management Service took over the lead federal role in a review of Cape Wind from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005.
Last year Massachusetts Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles signed off on the project.
The Cape Cod Commission denied a pair of 115 kilovolt transmission lines on procedural grounds in October. Cape Wind appealed that decision to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which approved the project in 2005. A hearing is scheduled for April.
Bornholdt stressed that the federal report released Monday was only a draft and the public would have a chance to comment on its findings as of Friday.
“This is a historic moment for (Minerals Management Service),” said Barbara Hill, executive director of the pro-Cape Wind group Clean Power Now.
The project would also provide the Minerals Management Service with much-needed information for future efforts to capture offshore wind, Hill said, comparing it to the moon shot.
“Without Cape Wind I can’t imagine us being where we’re at,” she said. Minerals Management Service recently released a Record of Decision on its proposed rules for offshore leases for renewable energy projects.
“We’re interested in finding out if this report is a step forward from where we were before or if it is a step backward,” said Mark Forest, aide to U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. Congress would be briefed in the coming days on its contents, Forest said.
Delahunt has consistently said that Cape Wind should not go forward before ocean planning and project guidelines are in place, similar to what is done with offshore oil and gas leases.
There is also a question of whether concerns raised by federal agencies who found fault with the Army Corps report were addressed, Forest said.
Once a final environmental impact statement is issued Cape Wind must apply for about 20 local, state and federal permits before construction can begin. That could happen as soon as 2010 and the wind farm could be in operation by 2011, Gordon said.
Gordon said he was confident all along that yesterday’s report would be positive. So far the project has cost Gordon $30 million. The total costs are projected to exceed $1 billion.
The report “moves Massachusetts closer to a leadership position in offshore renewable energy and a brighter energy future,” Gordon said.
By Patrick Cassidy
Cape Cod Times Staff Writer
15 January 2008
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