Opponents of the stalled Cape Wind project are criticizing a federal agency’s decision to allow the company’s lease of 46 acres of submerged land in Nantucket Sound to remain intact, two years after it was dealt a seemingly fatal blow.
As the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management releases its response – expected Friday – to a 2016 court order, longtime opponents of the offshore wind project argue the agency should have considered “changed circumstances” since a 2009 final environmental impact statement on the project was issued.
Last year, a court order required the agency to reconsider that statement, to see if the seafloor is able to support the wind turbines, and file a supplemental statement.
To address the court order, a federal engineer reviewed geotechnical survey analyses done since 2009 as well as conclusions drawn by a third-party. The engineer determined the survey information and analyses provided by Cape Wind, and verified by the third-party, was appropriate for the proposed foundation designs and construction methods.
“There is no indication at the conclusion of the review … that the seafloor cannot support the wind turbines,” according to the final supplemental report, which opponents received copies of before its public release.
Cape Wind officials contended earlier this year that the company has provided information that shows its original foundation designs were appropriate for the site.
But the project’s primary opponent, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, argues that circumstances have changed: There is newer technology available than what Cape Wind has proposed, the company lost state permits for the transmission of energy from the proposed 130-turbine wind farm, utilities canceled power contracts for the project and it lacks funding.
Other opponents of the project agree.
“Our biggest concern is that it completely fails to address all the changed circumstances,” Charles McLaughlin, assistant attorney for the town of Barnstable, said about the final supplemental report by the federal agency.
The report is expected to be released to the public Friday.
Cape Wind officials dispute claims by its critics that the project is in financial trouble and using out-of-date technology.
The federal agency should “allow the project to move forward with minimum further delay,” Dennis Duffy, vice president of regulatory affairs for Cape Wind, wrote in a May 15 comment on a draft version of the supplemental report.
Cape Wind officials did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The project ran into a seemingly insurmountable hurdle in January 2015 when Eversource and National Grid terminated contracts to buy power from the wind farm, which was first proposed in 2001.
During the 30-day “wait period” before the final supplemental environmental impact report is recorded as a decision, the Alliance intends to submit additional comments and evidence that “lease cancellation is the only responsible alternative,” according to the organization.
A two-year suspension of the Cape Wind lease, which was sought by the company, ended on July 25.
In the past several months, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has confirmed that the Cape Wind lease is in good standing. But the project is not one of three offshore wind farm developers with federal leases south of the Islands, all of which are expected to vie for energy contracts with Massachusetts electric utilities under a 2016 state law.
As part of the 2016 court order that vacated the Cape Wind environmental impact statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was told to reconsider its findings related to terns and plovers.
“We have been and continue to work diligently to complete the remand required by the court of appeals,” said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Meagan Racey.
A status hearing that had been planned for Aug. 25 in the court case will likely be delayed until later in the year, McLaughlin said.
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