Sen. Scott Brown is calling on a federal agency to provide for public review and comment on Cape Wind’s bid for approval of its construction and operating plan, a request that one project proponent called a “delaying tactic.”
In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Brown, who has strong reservations about the project, said additional review appears to be necessary under the National Environmental Policy Act as that law calls for comment periods on construction and operating plans “when the level of public interest or the uncertainty of effects” warrants further review or when new information becomes available.
“It appears that these two tests apply in the case of the Cape Wind proposal,” Brown wrote in his letter, dated Feb. 1, 2011.
Brown aides were unavailable for further elaboration.
Project officials in recent years have cleared a series of major state and federal permitting hurdles needed to advance the offshore wind farm featuring 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound. Supporters say the project provides a major new source of clean energy and jobs while opponents continue to fight its construction, saying it’s both poorly located and that the power it will generate is too expensive. Project critics also say the switching of the project’s staging area from Rhode Island to New Bedford warrants additional review.
“It’s a delaying tactic,” Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government affairs at Mass Audubon said, referring to Brown’s request. “This has gone through 10 years of environmental review and public comment.”
The project has generated more than 7,000 pages of environmental studies, Clarke said, and project officials have been granted every permit sought and every permit appeal has been denied. “It’s time to build Cape Wind,” Clarke said.
In his letter, Brown said the Department of Interior has stated that until the project has an approved construction and operating plan, “developers have no authority to begin construction” and that the department has “full discretion to deny the approval necessary to construct the project.”
The department has also indicated a supplemental environmental impact statement might be required and an environmental assessment will be required, Brown said in his letter, which calls for a public comment period to be launched by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Cape Wind officials declined comment on Brown’s letter.
Last April, after the Obama administration delivered a key approval to Cape Wind, Brown released a statement calling it a “misguided decision,” adding: “While I support the concept of wind power as an alternative source of energy, Nantucket Sound is a national treasure that should be protected from industrialization. In addition to questioning project assumptions, Brown said it would jeopardize tourism and fishing on Cape Cod, impact aviation safety and the rights of Native American tribes in the area.
Angela Sanfilippo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, which represents 20 commercial fishing groups, also requested a public comment period on the project’s construction and operating plan, citing in a January letter its concerns about the project’s adverse impacts on fishing.
In a separate letter, attorney Charles McLaughlin Jr., on behalf of the town of Barnstable, said Salazar’s office had not addressed Barnstable’s concerns about its capacity to respond to any petroleum release associated with the project, including releases from a hypothetical fuel barge collision with a turbine. McLaughlin asked that the concerns be addressed as part of the construction and operating plan review.
Salazar last April approved Cape Wind, noting in a conclusive manner that the project would begin “a new direction in our nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region.” Salazar’s office called the project the first wind farm on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf and said it would generate enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined, while cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually.