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Potential projects off islands could dwarf Cape Wind

NANTUCKET – The crowd that gathered Thursday to meet with state environmental officials to discuss offshore wind energy projects south of the islands may have been small but they had plenty of questions.

How many turbines are possible in the 3,000-square-mile area of federal waters opened up for potential development by wind energy companies? What kind of jobs will be created by the anticipated projects? How much will the turbines’ electricity cost?

Although they didn’t have all the answers, state officials shared what they could with the two dozen islanders who packed a small wood-paneled meeting room inside the town offices on Fairgrounds Road.

“Potentially, four gigawatts of offshore wind could be developed,” said Bill White, assistant secretary for federal affairs at the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. By contrast, the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm’s 130 turbines are expected to produce 468 megawatts. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts.

If turbines south of the islands are larger than the 3.6-megawatt model Cape Wind plans to use in Nantucket Sound and produce 5 megawatts of electricity each, about 800 turbines could produce the 4 gigawatts of power expected to be generated in the federal lease area, White said.

Each project south of the islands could create hundreds of manufacturing, construction and maintenance jobs, said John Weber, the state agency’s coastal zone management ocean planning manager.

“Costs are not going to stay at 18.7 cents (per kilowatt-hour),” White said of the price National Grid has agreed to pay for half of Cape Wind’s electricity. “They’re going to drop.”

The size of the area being considered by federal regulators and developers will also be reduced, officials at Thursday’s meeting said. “There’ll be further shrinking,” White said of the lease area.

Peter Kaizer, who has spent his life on the water in various jobs, said the Nantucket Shoals southeast of the island should be among the areas protected from development. “Take them off the table,” he said of the shoals after the two-hour meeting.

Because of whales that congregate near the Great South Channel, scallop fishing and the intense currents and weather in the area, constructing wind turbines on the shoals is a bad idea, he said.

Nantucket residents have been less vocal than people on Martha’s Vineyard about the federal leasing area south of the islands. Because of concerns over duck populations that congregate in the waters around Nantucket, a buffer zone about 21 miles from the island’s coastline was established on a map of the roughly 350 proposed leasing blocks.

The buffer between the Vineyard and the closest nine-square-mile lease blocks is about 14 miles.

Mark Voigt asked White and Weber what benefits islanders might expect to see from wind energy projects built offshore and whether municipalities could bid on the leasing blocks. “They could,” Weber said.

But the federal government requires proof that a potential lease holder can financially, legally and technically build a proposed project, White said.

Vineyard residents have organized a cooperative to explore developing offshore wind energy, Weber said. The town of Hull is looking at a similar idea, he said.

April 18 is the deadline for submitting comments on the federal lease area. Federal officials are expected to share what they hear during the comment period in mid-May, White said.