The federal government has released a plan for how the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm will be built and operated.
Opponents of the project immediately decried the two-week comment period on an environmental assessment for the 871-page plan. Such assessments are used to determine if changes to a project require more extensive review.
“Clearly 15 days is just a ridiculously short amount of time to review such a large document,” said Audra Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
Earlier this month U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking for a public comment period on the construction and operations plan. The document was officially released Feb. 22, but Parker said her organization found out about it only through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – a division of the Interior Department responsible for the review of Cape Wind – posted the document on its website the afternoon of Feb. 22, an agency spokeswoman said. She did not respond to requests for an interview with someone at the agency.
The comment period on the environmental assessment for the construction and operations plan ends March 9.
The agency’s predecessor – the U.S. Minerals Management Service – released a favorable review of Cape Wind’s plans in January 2009. An environmental assessment in March 2010 supported the agency’s conclusions despite new information on the project.
Salazar approved the project in April.
Since that time, new information has become available on the cost of the project’s power, the size of the leasing area and potential mitigations including possible restrictions to air space, Parker said. The project’s proposed base of construction operations has also been moved from Rhode Island to New Bedford.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the company is not amenable to an extension of the comment period.
“The agency is not required to have any comment period,” he said, adding that the project has been through nearly a decade of intense review and public scrutiny.
“We view this as routine, and we’re proud of the construction and operations plan,” he said. “A lot of work and due diligence went into it.”
In November the state Department of Public Utilities approved a deal between Cape Wind and National Grid for half of the project’s power at 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
For an average residential electric customer in the utility’s territory, Cape Wind’s power will cost an additional $1.50 on a monthly bill for 618 kilowatt-hours, according to National Grid’s calculations.
The price of the contract would increase 3.5 percent annually over its 15-year life.
Cape Wind is still looking for a buyer for the second half of its power, as well as financial backers for the project, which is expected to cost more than $2 billion.
A pending federal loan guarantee could reduce the cost of the project’s power for consumers, Rodgers said.
A federal loan guarantee is essentially a low-interest loan directly from the government that has been used to support large projects.
Although he could not say how much the loan would shave off the power’s cost, Rodgers said the savings would be a “considerable discount.”
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