Did the Obama administration pressure the Federal Aviation Administration to sign off on the 130-turbine Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod?
That is what the chairmen of two powerful Congressional committees want to know.
The agency ruled “no hazard” would be created for aircraft by the Massachusetts wind park, now 10 years in the planning and approved it in 2010.
But paperwork uncovered by opponents of the project suggest there was political pressure put on the FAA to approve it.
“Did the Administration’s promotion of green energy production factor into FAA’s decision and if so in what way?” wrote U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa R-Calif, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and John Mica R-Fla., chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in a July `17 letter to Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
Issa and Mica want all FAA documents related to Cape Wind, including those in which Cape Terminal Radar Control noted that safety implications need to be explored.
“Why did an FAA manager state that it would be ‘difficult politically’ to refuse approval of this project?” the congressmen wrote.
If built, the $2.5 billion Cape Wind project would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
Located on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, the project would be in 24 square miles of water about five miles off Mashpee, Mass. The turbines, about 400 feet in height, would be spaced about six- to nine-hundred yards apart, according to its website, capewind.org.
The project has the potential capacity to provide 420 megawatts of electricity created by wind, roughly three quarters of the electric needs of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
It is in the process of securing buyers for its electricity, with National Grid picking up about half of its production and NSTAR buying 129 megawatts as a Massachusetts condition of its merger with Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service Company of NH.
Project officials hope to begin construction in 2013 and be producing power by 2015, according to the website.
The Obama administration has advanced renewable power production as an important way to achieve energy independence and grow new jobs.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has opposed the project and contributed to the organization opposing it, as did the late former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. John Kerry D-Mass.
Current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, supports the project and has reportedly advocated the project to Obama.
The project is being developed by Energy Management Inc. LLC. Company spokesman Mark Rodgers, in responding to the congressional letter, said “false claims” are being made that the decision was politically driven.
“On air navigational safety, the FAA has been carefully reviewing Cape Wind for 10 years and approved it three times, twice during the Bush administration and once under the current administration, despite pressure from the well-funded opposition group.”
Rodgers said the company is hopeful the review “will come to the same conclusion that Cape Wind will not be hazardous to air navigation, just as Europe’s 40 offshore wind farms, built over the past 20 years, have not posed any problems for safe air navigation.”
The documents came to light after the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound obtained them and gave them to the Boston Herald, which recently broke the story.
In the letter, Issa and Mica wrote “a politically based determination of the Cape Wind project by the FAA is an unacceptable use of federal authority, contravenes FAA’s statutory mandate and raises significant concerns for aviation in Nantucket Sound.”
On Friday, Becca Glover Watkins, press secretary for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the committee is awaiting a response.
“We haven’t heard back from the FAA and probably won’t hear until the deadline on the letter.”
It states that the committee wants answers no later than July 31.
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