September 29, 2017

Cape Wind has a new lease on life

By George Brennan | The Martha's Vineyard Times | September 28, 2017 |

Cape Wind’s lease of 46 square miles of Nantucket Sound was reaffirmed this week, even though the project has appeared dead in the water for several years.

The decision, filed Wednesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, states that Cape Wind, which proposes to build 130 wind turbines in Horseshoe Shoal, has met the requirements to show that it’s taken “all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm…”

The project, which has been the topic of numerous legal battles, was considered on life support because utilities had cancelled their contracts to purchase electricity generated from the project.

The approval came despite dozens of letters from political leaders, municipalities and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in opposition to the project.

“While we certainly support renewable energy, Cape Wind is the wrong project in the wrong location,” stated a letter signed by the entire Cape and Islands legislative delegation. “It has long been mired in controversy due to its conflicted location in the center of Nantucket Sound, as well as high costs associated with this now outdated project.”

The Town of Edgartown, fisheries groups and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) were among the stakeholders who opposed the lease extension, Audra Parker, CEO and president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, told The Times.

The Alliance had called on the Interior Department to cancel the lease, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found that request to be outside the scope of its review. “We believe they inappropriately constrained their review,” she said.

In all, the Interior Department received 581 submittals on the proposed lease extension. It considered only those that were within the scope of looking at things like “bedrock integrity” and “moving boulders and boulder mitigation,” among other things.

Cape Wind remains a threat, Ms. Parker said. “Its an ongoing threat as long as Cape Wind holds a long-term lease,” she said. “It’s valid through 2041, which means Cape Wind could sell the rights to another developer.”

The project’s social media feeds have been dormant since 2015, which is about the time that it’s power purchase agreements were ripped up.

Jim Gordon, the chief executive of Cape Wind, could not be immediately reached for comment. In August he told The Times, the project remains viable and was awaiting the lease decision.

The Interior Department wrote that “the decision was reached after careful and thorough analysis of the seafloor and its ability to support the wind turbine generators presented…” Cape Wind proposes to use “technology that is currently available, technically feasible, and economically viable; that can interconnect with and deliver electricity to the New England Power Pool.”

Without the wind energy, the region’s reliance of fossil fuel plants would grow, the decision concluded.

Ms. Parker said the federal review should have included projects that have emerged since Cape Wind originally received the lease in 2010. There are three companies that have been issued leases 15 miles off the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard, for example.

“In 2009, they were few and far between,” she said. “Now there are a number alternative sites leased and they should have looked at those and the cumulative impacts of those projects.”

Ms. Parker could not say what the next step would be. “We need to evaluate next steps,” she said. “Our goal is to have the lease ended and we’ll take any necessary steps to do that.”

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