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Cape Wind airs emergency plans

HYANNIS – Cape Wind officials are finalizing how to build and operate a 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, including how to respond to emergencies at the facility.

The company outlined what would happen if there is an oil spill, fire or other problem at the wind farm in a construction and operations plan released by the U.S. Interior Department last month.

Appendices to the document lay out who gets the first phone calls in case of an emergency, more data on how much oil will be used in the project, and who would respond to any wildlife affected by a spill.

“We plan for everything that could go wrong,” said Scott Metzger, senior vice president for site services at Clean Harbors Environmental Services.

Cape Wind has contracted Clean Harbors to respond to any spills from the project. The Norwell-based company has 7,000 employees worldwide and subcontractors on the Cape prepared to respond immediately to any spill, Metzger said.

Despite the plan’s release, Cape Cod fire officials are still waiting for information on what role they might play in an emergency.

“There’s a long list of questions that we have,” Hyannis Deputy Fire Chief Dean Melanson said. “Who’s in charge of firefighting? Who’s doing EMS? Who’s doing rescue?”

Melanson said he has put those questions to Cape Wind officials but hasn’t received any response.

“We are in no way, shape or form set up to go out three miles and perform a high-rise firefighting operation on a 10-story platform,” he said.

“In the event of a fire, Cape Wind will respond,” company spokesman Mark Rodgers said, adding that employees will have the appropriate training. “We have no plans to call upon the towns for fire response at the facility.”

The U.S. Coast Guard will be the first government agency to respond to any medical situation or rescue in the wind farm, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Edward LeBlanc said. Firefighting is not a primary part of the agency’s mission, he said.

Spill risk called minimal

Rodgers said the company expects to meet with local public safety officials prior to construction to answer any questions they might have.

“When you think of energy facilities, there are safety issues that you always deal with, and in the case of a wind farm, those issues are comparatively a lot more manageable and the potential risks to the public or nearby communities are very small compared to, for example, a fossil fuel-fired power plant or certainly a nuclear power plant,” Rodgers said.

The likelihood of a spill from the wind farm is minimal because of containment systems inside the turbines and inside a 10-story electrical service platform that will be located in the sound, Metzger said.

The type of oil that will be used is easier to clean up than the crude oil that spilled from a deepwater drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico last year or the fuel oil a tanker spilled into Buzzards Bay in 2003, he said.

“I was on that,” Metzger said of working on the Buzzards Bay spill. “This oil is actually much easier to respond to than that one.”

According to information in Cape Wind’s oil spill response plan, the service platform will contain four 110-megavolt amp oil cooled transformers, each with a capacity for 10,000 gallons of dielectric cooling oil. Each transformer will be mounted in a leak-proof detention area that has the capacity for 1.5 times the amount of oil it carries. These areas will be connected to a storage tank that can capture all the oil.

The turbines – which will carry 90 gallons of hydraulic oil, 220 gallons of gear oil and 370 gallons of transformer oil – have similar storage areas to contain a leak, according to the plan.
In the event of a catastrophic failure of all containment systems, there would be no long-term damage from a spill, Metzger said.

“In all ways comparable to the oil threats we face in Buzzards Bay, this is an extremely small amount of oil,” said Mark Rasmussen, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Buzzards Bay.

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil travel through Buzzards Bay on tankers every day without the type of oil spill analysis that Cape Wind has done, he said.

“This is a real Cadillac of a response plan for a tiny amount of oil,” he said.

Cape Wind’s opponents have long argued that if the oil from the service platform entered the sound it would have disastrous consequences for the region’s environment and economy.

Critics not swayed

The newly released plans did little to allay those fears.

“First of all, it really isn’t an emergency response plan,” said Clifford Carroll, founder of Windstop.org, a website dedicated to stopping the wind farm. “If you read this it says they will develop it at the next stage when this is permitted.”

There is also more oil involved than previously stated, Carroll said, citing the 370 gallons of transformer oil in the base of each turbine.

That oil was not accounted for in earlier documents because the turbine model had not been chosen at the time, Cape Wind’s Rodgers said.

For Carroll and other opponents, the sound is the wrong place for a wind farm no matter what. “It’s outrageous,” he said, adding that the same federal agency responsible for the Gulf of Mexico disaster – the Interior Department – is in charge of permitting Cape Wind.

For Cape Wind’s supporters, however, the benefits of the project far outweigh any risks.
“The big picture is climate change is killing our oceans,” said Jackie Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana, an international conservation organization that supports the project. “The only way to stop that from happening is to change our energy paradigm.”