WASHINGTON – It appears a Kentucky lawmaker who has been a fierce defender of the coal industry in his state is headed for a fight with the Obama administration over a “green energy” project off the Massachusetts coast.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-1st District, said Wednesday that the Department of Energy’s commitment to a $150 million loan guarantee for an array of wind turbines off Cape Cod is “reckless” and he intends to try to stop it.
Although you would never know it to look around Kentucky, where coal is king, many parts of the country are increasing the use of wind turbines to generate electricity.
In fact, Kentucky is now only one of 11 states that do not use any wind power to generate electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Nationwide, electricity generation from wind increased from about 6 billion kilowatt hours in 2000 to around 168 billion kilowatt hours in 2013, the EIA reports.
But Whitfield, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subcommittee, does not believe the federal government should be backing projects like the one off Massachusetts, which is called Cape Wind. The lawmaker has been among a number of coal-state members of Congress who have accused the Obama administration of waging a “war on coal.”
“We’ve seen time and time again this administration provide billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for green energy projects that have failed, leaving taxpayers on the hook. I have a number of concerns with this administration’s reckless decision to back Cape Wind,” Whitfield said in a statement.
The lawmaker noted that the project had been tied up in lawsuits.
Whitfield also charged that wind turbines are killing “hundreds of thousands of birds annually” because President Barack Obama is favoring campaign donors and political allies in the wind industry, “essentially giving them a free pass to kill birds and skirt federal laws.”
“Conversely, oil and gas companies are fined hundreds of millions of dollars, a stark hypocritical application of the law,” the congressman said.
“While renewable energy plays a role in an all-of-the-above energy strategy, the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers and gambling with taxpayer dollars,” Whitfield insisted. “I will oppose this conditional agreement under the DOE’s loan guarantee program and do everything I can to stop it.”
Cape Wind is a $2.5 billion project that would place 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod. It would be the nation’s first off-shore wind farm.
“The department’s loan guarantees have assisted the launch of new industries in the U.S., and today’s announcement of a conditional commitment to the Cape Wind project demonstrates our intent to help build a strong U.S. offshore wind industry,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an announcement Tuesday.
Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that the federal loan guarantee “will help Massachusetts make energy history and continue our leadership as a clean energy jobs hub for the entire nation.”
“This kind of public-private partnership is exactly what these energy funding programs are designed to do, demonstrating leading-edge, potentially planet-saving technologies while creating good American jobs,” the senator said.
Cape Wind Associates LLC spokesman Mark Rodgers told The Boston Globe that the loan guarantee will enable the company to line up the remaining financing it needs by the end of the year.
“Things will happen very quickly after that,” he said. “We would begin construction early next year, in 2015, putting in foundations.”
A federal lawsuit challenging the project was dismissed in May.
However, the wind farm has divided environmental groups and communities and businesses in Cape Cod.
Opponents contend the power generated by the wind turbines will be too expensive and that the array of spinning blades offshore will be unsightly. Some environmentalists also worry that the wind farm will harm migratory birds and right whales that pass through the area.
But the Natural Resources Defense Council said the wind farm will generate pollution-free electricity that will meet 75 percent of the power needs of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
“The U.S. has been lagging far behind Europe and even China in capturing the enormous clean energy potential blowing off our shores,” said Kit Kennedy, director of the environmental group’s energy and transportation program. “Cape Wind can finally kick-start the nation’s offshore wind industry and – with a dozen other projects lined up – the next generation will not be far behind.”