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County releases map for offshore wind projects

BARNSTABLE – County planners are moving forward on deciding where to allow wind turbines in local waters.

Town representatives on a policy committee established by the Cape Cod Commission approved a draft map last week that designates most state waters around the peninsula off-limits for wind-energy projects.

The map prohibits projects within about two miles of land and across most of Cape Cod Bay but allows possible development on a swath of Nantucket Sound near where Cape Wind Associates LLC plans to build 130 turbines in federal waters.

Based on updated information about right whale habitats, the policy committee created an exclusionary zone where developers would have to meet higher standards to prove a project would do more good than harm.

These rules would be stricter than under the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan but the plans are not radically different, said Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki.

“The map itself I don’t think is radically different from the state map,” he said.

As part of the state’s ocean management plan, the Cape Cod Commission and other regional planning agencies were given authority to designate the “appropriate scale” for wind-energy projects in waters within three miles of the coastline that fall under state jurisdiction. The commission was given up to 24 offshore wind turbines to allocate as planners saw fit.

Opponents of wind-energy projects in Nantucket Sound do not think the plan is strict enough for Cape’s southside waters.

Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound president and chief executive officer Audra Parker said the area’s historic significance is worthy of more protections.

“The alliance’s position all along is that Nantucket Sound should be off-limits to development,” she said. “That was reinforced by every key state and federal historic preservation agency.”

Given the history of opposition to Cape Wind, energy developers are likely aware that any move to develop wind projects in the sound will face stiff resistance, she said.

The new map also has raised concerns among proponents of renewable energy.

“My concern would be that Cape Cod Bay is largely off the map,” said Chris Powicki, president of the Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative.

The collaborative is hosting a forum on the planning process tonight at the Brewster Ladies’ Library.

Members of the policy committee will now take the map and other recommendations to their boards of selectmen for comment.

The policy committee considered the updated information on right whales, data on eel grass and a visual-impact study by Cape Cod Commission staff in deciding on the map, Sandwich Selectman James Pierce said.

The 19-member policy committee also considered information on fishing, other wildlife and navigation in developing the map, he said.

Areas in Cape Cod Bay that are still open to possible development include about 2 square miles off Sandwich and between 6 and 8 square miles near Orleans, Eastham and Brewster, Pierce said.

“Even those areas are not unregulated,” he said. “There are a lot of planning hoops that a developer would have to leap through to get anything in those areas.”

If the Cape Cod Commission did not act to develop regulations for local waters the state would have done so, Pierce said.

“We’ve got a dog in this fight,” he said, adding that although the areas open to development are limited, he hopes the planning effort will lead to wind-energy development in some form.

The policy committee has recommended a three-month extension of an existing moratorium on offshore wind development in state waters around the Cape that is set to end May 5. The Cape Cod Commission will take up the extension request at its next meeting.