After months of silence, lawyers for Cape Wind spoke loud and clear in court at the end of last year.
“This project is going forward unequivocally,” Cape Wind attorney Christopher Marraro told a U.S. District Court judge during a conference in Washington, D.C., in December.
Cape Wind’s assertion in court that it is still intending to put 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound is further buttressed by a second recent development. In December, Cape Wind made its annual $88,000 lease payment to the federal government to keep control of 46 square miles of Nantucket Sound.
These developments fly in the face of what had been a growing consensus in the media, on Beacon Hill and here on the Cape and Islands that Cape Wind had, as the Cape Cod Times wrote recently, “given up”, and wind projects would now only be sited where they belong – farther offshore in less conflicted and less environmentally sensitive areas.
Cape Wind is facing a very tough battle if it is “unequivocally” moving forward with the project. In the past two years, Cape Wind’s power contracts were canceled by Massachusetts utilities, it lost state permits for transmission lines needed to bring its power ashore, it was cut out of a Massachusetts energy bill with an offshore wind mandate, and it faced a major setback in federal appeals court.
All of this raises the question of why Cape Wind has renewed its lease, and why it insists it is pushing forward. One answer may be the lease itself. Issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2010, the lease is valid until the year 2041. Cape Wind has more than two decades to continue pushing for construction of its own project or to transfer the development rights to another developer. Much can change in that time. A tenacious private developer who has spent $100 million trying to build his offshore wind project is unlikely to let go of this valuable asset easily.
Consider also the recent progress of the offshore wind industry in the U.S. Since Cape Wind was first proposed over 15 years ago, offshore wind turbines have become more efficient, multiple new sites have been identified as suitable for development, and utility companies now have mandates to buy power from offshore wind. Last year, the federal government announced an aggressive program to deploy 86,000 megawatts of offshore wind in U.S. waters by 2050.
As a result, experienced European companies and new U.S. entrants have been buying lease areas up and down the East Coast. And while the number of bidders and lease sale prices have fluctuated wildly since the federal government first started running offshore lease auctions in 2013, the most recent one had six different bidders driving up the price for 120 square miles off New York to a whopping $42 million.
The growing interest in the development of offshore wind in the U.S. is undeniable. As long as Cape Wind holds a lease that it can use or transfer, Nantucket Sound remains vulnerable.
Clearly, the only way to remove the possibility of exploitation of Nantucket Sound is to take back Cape Wind’s lease. In a major victory last year for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the town of Barnstable and other plaintiffs challenging the federal review process for Cape Wind, the court ruled that the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal laws. As a result, the court vacated key environmental reviews on which the lease relies, but not the lease itself.
This decision means the agencies must conduct new environmental reviews before Cape Wind can go forward. However, there is no requirement that the federal government reinstate Cape Wind’s lease, which is suspended through July, per the developer’s own request. Interior has the authority and justification to make the decision to terminate the lease and stop the agencies from moving forward with new environmental review, especially when many new alternatives now exist.
We must stay vigilant until Cape Wind’s lease is vacated, putting a stop to this poorly sited project once and for all. Because once Nantucket Sound is gone, it’s gone forever.
Audra Parker is president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
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