On Monday, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a renewable energy bill now on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk that supports offshore wind development but excludes Cape Wind, a proposed 25-square-mile wind power plant that would be built on Horseshoe Shoal in the center of Nantucket Sound.
Since 2001, Cape Wind Associates has been in the eye of a storm after it first proposed placing 130 wind-powered turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, a relatively shallow area in federal waters nine miles east of Oak Bluffs.
Supporters said that the wind farm would provide enough clean energy to supply approximately three-quarters of the electricity needed to power Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Opponents cited the visual, environmental, and cultural impacts on Nantucket Sound.
The bill lawmakers sent to the governor supports offshore wind projects that are sited in locations where fishing, navigation, cultural, and environmental conflicts are minimized, and where development rights are secured through competitive bidding, according to a press release from Save Our Sound, a nonprofit alliance that has battled Cape Wind for years.
It would appear that the bill would take the wind out of Cape Wind Associates. However, Save Our Sound is not giving up its fight, pointing out that Cape Wind continues to hold a lease for 46 square miles in Nantucket Sound. The lease expires in 2041.
“They are not giving up, and Nantucket Sound continues to be vulnerable as long as they hold the developing rights to that lease,” Save Our Sound president and chief executive officer Audra Parker told The Times during a visit to the Island last week.
Energy Management Incorporated (EMI), spearheaded by developer Jim Gordon, launched its bid for a wind farm in 2001.
Asked for comment on the State House action, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon responded in an email to The Times with a prepared statement:
“We are very disappointed given the pioneering effort and perseverance our Massachusetts-based company invested in validating the benefits of offshore wind for the Commonwealth while also contributing to evolving its Federal and State regulatory framework over these past 15 years,” the statement said.
“The influence of fossil fuel billionaire Bill Koch and other wealthy NIMBYs and the decision by the Legislature and Baker Administration to exclude a bona fide competitor with the most advanced, developed offshore wind project unfairly undermines a true competitive process and arbitrarily subverts a long and comprehensive regulatory and judicial process. The regulatory process clearly confirmed the energy, economic and environmental benefits of Cape Wind, and the slow judicial process was nearing the completion path of clearing away the final legal appeals for start of construction,” the statement said. “Our company will evaluate our options for Cape Wind and continue our ongoing efforts of implementing a variety of clean energy solutions.”
‘None of that’
Save Our Sound, formerly known as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, was formed in 2002. “We believe that what we are doing is right,” Ms. Parker said when asked what keeps her still fighting for Nantucket Sound. “It’s nothing to do with blocking renewable energy. It’s about making sure it has community support and that it’s responsibly sited and that it’s cost-effective. Cape Wind is none of that.”
Cape Wind contracts to sell power to National Grid and Eversource were terminated in January 2015 because the company had failed to meet major contractual milestones for its estimated $2.6 billion project, according to Ms. Parker. She said that local and state agencies denied the renewal of its permits to bring power ashore in April 2016. Despite these blows, Save Our Sound continues to fight.
Currently, the organization has two primary goals. The first is to terminate Cape Wind’s lease so it no longer holds the developing rights to the 46 square miles in Nantucket Sound. The second is to designate the Sound as a protected area to ensure that it will not be developed.
“The long-term view is a unified conservation effort where people can get involved in a proactive effort to provide some kind of permanent protection of all the resources in the sound,” Susan Nickerson, Save Our Sound director of development, told The Times.
Ms. Parker and Ms. Nickerson came to Martha’s Vineyard last Thursday and Friday to meet with the Chamber of Commerce, tribal members, donors, and prospective donors.
Save Our Sound’s opposition rests on concerns that include the environmental impact it would have on the sound, putting fisheries, birds, and marine mammals at risk through a loss of habitat and changes in tidal currents. Cape Wind’s electrical service platform, which connects the cables to the turbines and then transforms the voltage to bring power to shore, would hold 30,000 gallons of transformer oil, leaving Nantucket Sound vulnerable to a potential oil spill. Ms. Parker said it would be “a huge environmental disaster.”
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have supported the battle against Cape Wind. The tribes brought significant advantages to the fight.
Federal law required Cape Wind to consult with Native American tribes as part of the permitting process. The elected leadership of both tribes cited tribal ceremonies associated with an unobstructed view of the sun as it rises over the Sound in their statements opposing Cape Wind.
At the two tribes’ insistence, in 2008, the National Park Service bolstered the Wampanoag opposition when it listed Nantucket Sound in the National Register of Historic Places, due to its significance as a “traditional cultural property and as an historic and archeological property.”
In a phone conversation with The Times, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said that designation reflects how important spaces like the Sound are.
Ms. Washington said that she’s hopeful the energy bill will increase the likelihood of Cape Wind not being built. She called it one more big hurdle in the fight for Nantucket Sound.
“Our stance is still that it’s a long fight to have that built, so we’re hopeful to put an end to the idea of constructing that in Nantucket Sound,” Ms. Washington said.
‘Not responsibly sited’
Ms. Parker and Ms. Nickerson emphasized that Save Our Sound is not against renewable energy. They said that if a large-scale power plant is built, it has to be done properly, so its impact is minimal. They believe that Cape Wind is “not responsibly sited.”
Ms. Parker said Cape Wind’s location was chosen to maximize profit because of its proximity to the mainland. As an alternative, the federal government has identified offshore Wind Energy Areas (WEA) along the East Coast that would create less conflict. These areas, at the closest point, are 14 miles from Martha’s Vineyard and 15 miles from Nantucket. Cape Wind’s proposed project, at the closest point, would be less than five miles from Cape Cod, five and a half miles from Martha’s Vineyard, and 11 miles from Nantucket.
“Nantucket Sound is the heart and soul of the Cape and Islands. That’s why people come here,” Ms. Parker said. “It’s consistently recognized as an area that’s worthy of protection, and a 25-square-mile power plant is not consistent with that.”
South of Island
This spring, Denmark-based DONG Energy, one of the leading energy groups in Northern Europe, and developers of what will be the largest offshore wind farm array in the world in the Irish Sea, turned its attention to the waters south of Martha’s Vineyard for its first project in North America.
DONG Energy said it plans to build a wind farm comprised of up to 100 wind turbines and capable of generating as much as 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity on a leased site, one of four, designated for the development of offshore wind power that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put up for bid in January.
The site of the proposed development has water depths between 130 and 165 feet. Over the long term, the company expects to generate up to 1,000 MW, and the company expects the first power to be delivered in the early 2020s.
Vineyard Power Cooperative, a local renewable-energy cooperative whose stated mission is to produce local renewable energy in ways that benefit Martha’s Vineyard, has teamed up with Offshore MW, a New Jersey–based sister company to Wind MW, a German firm that recently completed construction of a 288-MW offshore wind farm in the North Sea, to bid on one of the four sites offered for lease.
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