The ongoing legal battles that have plagued the controversial Cape Wind project are one step closer to culmination, thanks to a ruling issued this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
For the fourth time, the FAA determined that Cape Wind – a 468 MW offshore wind project proposed for Nantucket Sound – does not exceed obstruction standards and, therefore, poses no hazard to air navigation, provided that the wind turbines are marked properly and are equipped with the lighting required by FAA guidelines.
The project received similar approvals in the past, but the town of Barnstable, Mass., and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (APNS) – a group that has vociferously opposed the project – appealed the decision, saying they found “several substantial adverse effects to aviation operations in and near Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.”
Last October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia responded to the appeal by rejecting the FAA’s “determination of no hazard.” According to the court, the FAA “misread its regulations,” so it was unable to make an adequate determination on the danger the wind turbines might cause.
At the time, Cape Wind communications director Mark Rodgers urged the FAA to stand by its decision.
“The essence of today’s court ruling is that the FAA needs to better explain its ‘determination of no hazard,’” he said. “We are confident that after the FAA does this, their decision will stand, and we do not foresee any impact on the project’s schedule in moving forward.”
The FAA responded by announcing a public comment period, which concluded on March 17. During the comment period, Massachusetts State Sen. Dan Wolf, founder and CEO of Cape Air – the largest commercial user of Nantucket Sound airspace – reaffirmed to the FAA the comments he submitted during the last appeals process.
“I wish to state for the record that I agree with the FAA findings that the Cape Wind project proposed for Horseshoe Shoal will have no adverse impact on air transportation and navigation in the region,” Wolf wrote.
More battles ahead?
Despite this latest decision, it remains to be seen whether the controversy surrounding the proposed offshore wind farm will finally come to a close.
Several groups still oppose the project – the most vocal of which has been APNS – and aviation concerns are only one component of their argument against Cape Wind. Recently, APNS went so far as to claim that there were political motivations behind the FAA’s decision.
“Cape Wind continues to face serious and growing problems, with investigations being launched into the project’s political maneuvering, four federal lawsuits pending, and a recent federal court decision to revoke Cape Wind’s aviation safety permit,” the group stated on its website. (The last claim has been negated with this latest FAA decision.)
However, those claims have not been substantiated, and the wind energy sector remains optimistic that Cape Wind will prevail.
In fact, Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, hopes the FAA’s latest decision will finally give Cape Wind the jump-start it needs to move forward.
“We hope today’s decision by the FAA finally sends the message to the offshore wind obfuscators that it’s time for them to move on,” Lanard tells NAW. “Offshore wind will come to Massachusetts and Nantucket Sound.”
He adds that the threat of further legal battles makes the approvals process even more thorough.
“We know that Cape Wind ensures that every step they take has been checked, checked again and rechecked, since the company knows that every filing they make will likely be subject to additional – and unnecessary – litigation,” Lanard says. “Hence, we have a great deal of confidence that Cape Wind will prevail in any future lawsuits filed against them.”
The Cape Wind project is the only offshore wind farm proposed in the U.S. to have received a commercial lease, all of the necessary federal and state approvals, and an approved construction and operations plan. The project now has contracts in place for 78% of its output to be purchased by utilities NSTAR and National Grid.