Nantucketers with something to say about Cape Wind Associates’ proposed wind farm for Nantucket Sound will get their chance March
11 when the Minerals Management Service holds a three-hour public hearing at Nantucket High School.
This could be the last chance for island residents to speak their piece to the lead agency in charge of reviewing and permitting the Cape Wind project.
“This is quote, unquote, the Super Bowl,” said Glenn Wattley, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, also known as Save Our Sound. “This is the public’s opportunity to provide their input on the impact statement on the draft – make no mistake, this is a draft – whether you’re for it or against it, this is the time for you to go to the hearing and put your comments on the record.”
The hearing is part of a 60-day public comment period that runs through March 20. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is the last Minerals Management Service document to be issued before its Final Environmental Impact Statement, which will either grant a lease of federal waters for the wind turbines or issue a denial. That final word from the MMS is expected by the end of the year or early in 2009.
“It’s great that the public has had so many opportunities to express themselves,” said Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind Associates. “There’s been more public input on Cape Wind than any energy project in the history of Massachusetts.”
Nantucket’s public hearing is one of four being held in the region by the MMS, with the others on Martha’s Vineyard, in West Yarmouth and in Boston.
Cape Wind Associates plans to erect 130, 440-foot tall, 3.6-megawatt turbines on 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound and 4.7 miles off Cape Cod. If approved, construction will start in 2009, with the turbines spinning as early as 2010. Cape Wind has said the turbines will generate a maximum of 468 megawatts of electricity for Cape and islands ratepayers, with an average of 182.6 megawatts per day. Cape Wind claims the project will remove 880,000 tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere per year and loosen U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.
Cape Wind needs 19 permits or approvals from federal, state and local agencies, five of which it has obtained.
In May 2005, the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board approved the route for Cape Wind’s transmission lines from the three-mile seaward limit of state waters to a substation in Barnstable, where it will tie into the New England Power Pool grid.
That same year, on Aug. 8, review of the project shifted from the Army Corps of Engineers – which scrutinized Cape Wind’s application for a Section 10 Permit under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 – to the MMS when President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, giving the MMS jurisdiction over development of energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. The MMS manages offshore energy sources and minerals within 1.76 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, and is charged with protecting its coastal, marine and human environments.
IN THE DOLDRUMS
Cape Wind’s proposal has been around long enough for both sides of the issue to galvanize constituents. In response to Question 8 on the 2006 ballot, among other non-binding growth management questions, 61 percent of island voters said they were against wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Blustery rhetoric continues blowing in both directions, especially with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement reporting, in general, that the project will cause negligible to minor impacts on the environment, with only moderate impacts on sea birds, scenic views, navigation and fish species.
Save Our Sound’s Wattley points to what he sees as a paradox of a green energy project producing what he believes will be higher electricity costs. Rodgers, on the other hand, said Cape Wind will indeed set its own rates but that they will remain constant for 15 to 20 years.
Wattley also believes that the MMS released its DEIS too soon to be adequately examined, and did not wait for two crucial sets of information – the U.S. Coast Guard’s Terms and Conditions for use of Nantucket Sound, and the MMS’ own promulgation of regulations for renewable energy for the Outer Continental Shelf, which was supposed to have been completed within 270 days of the Energy Policy Act’s enactment in 2005.
“At this point, how can we really have a fair assessment of Cape Wind when the Coast Guard hasn’t issued the terms and conditions?” asked Wattley, who is calling for a 90-day extension of MMS’ public comment period. “What’s driving the MMS to push this past the Coast Guard?”
These concerns, however, are moot, according to MMS media spokesman Nicolette Nye, who said that the Coast Guard filed its terms and conditions with the MMS on Aug. 2 last year – a letter to that effect is in Appendix E of the DEIS – and that the Energy Policy Act granted the MMS authority to continue its review of Cape Wind’s project as offshore power regulations were being written.
One major issue still pending is the Cape Cod Commission’s Oct. 19, 2007 denial of Cape Wind’s route for its transmission lines. Cape Wind filed an appeal of that ruling with the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board on Nov. 21 last fall.
The Nantucket hearing is the second to be held on the island, the first facilitated by the Army Corps of Engineers in March 2004 after the release of its DEIS.
Like the Army Corps hearing four years ago, the March 11 input-gathering session will be tightly structured to follow the federal agency’s public hearing protocol, said Nye.
“We’re looking, of course, for comments and feedback on the DEIS, so we’re of course looking for comments that are relevant: did we miss anything, are there facts and figures that we need, did we do something wrong? All the comments are taken and recorded and become part of the public record.”
Those who plan to speak at the hearing cannot simply show up and raise their hands. All speakers must arrive an hour before the hearing begins at 5 p.m. to sign up to speak. Speakers will be called on in the order they registered, but must wait for elected federal, state and island officials to speak, in that order.
A court stenographer will record the proceedings, but those who plan to speak can also submit comments in writing at the time of registration. Nye said the amount of time speakers get to air their views depends on how many people attend the hearing. If it is crowded, she said, the MMS will limit speaking times to three minutes.
“All comments are weighed equally,” said Nye. “A comment from the public is just as important to us as [one from] a member from an environmental group or an elected official. This is part of the review process. This is what the DEIS is for.”
By Peter B. Brace
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