HYANNIS – The federal lease in Nantucket Sound for Cape Wind ended quietly last month, formally drawing to a close years of rancorous debate over the controversial project.
“We are thrilled that Cape Wind’s lease surrender is official,” Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound Chief Executive Officer Audra Parker said.
The 33-year federal lease was issued Oct. 6, 2010 to Cape Wind Associates, which intended to place 130 wind turbines on 25 square miles on Horseshoe Shoal between Cape Cod and the Islands, about six miles southeast of Cotuit. The offshore wind farm was long expected to be the first large-scale commercial installation in the country.
But opposition to the development of Nantucket Sound grew fast, and eventually ensnared the company in legal appeals and political gridlock, according to Cape Wind President James Gordon
The “narrative” against the project, Gordon said in an interview last year, was that the turbines would kill birds, impede navigation by boats, hurt whales, ruin views, shut down marinas and harm tourism.
“It’s a little bit over the top,” Gordon said during the late December interview.
Earlier that month, despite delays allowed by federal regulators, the company announced it would cease attempts to develop the wind farm and that it would surrender the federal lease.
The federal government approved the company’s lease relinquishment application on May 10, subject to the company completing its obligations such as making necessary payments and decommissioning all facilities in the lease area. With the relinquishment approved, there is no chance that another offshore wind energy company could take up the remaining years of the lease, a federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesman said.
Prior to the planned construction of a wind farm, Cape Wind Associates had paid $88,278 in annual rent as stipulated in the lease. That payment to the federal government would have changed to an operating fee based on wind energy produced if the turbines had been built.
The turbines were not built, thwarted in part by the loss of critical power purchase agreements in 2015 and the company being excluded from new offshore wind energy initiatives in 2016 in state legislation. But the status of the federal lease had been a lingering worry for Cape Wind opponents.
“Now we can fully focus our efforts on the permanent protection of Nantucket Sound so that it is never again threatened by industrial development,” Parker said.
Cape Wind has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove its 197-foot meteorological tower from the lease area, and the federal agency is reviewing the permit application, said Army Corps spokeswoman Christine Jacek. The agency expects to make a permit decision by the end of June, and then Cape Wind would be responsible for the removal, Jacek said.
The company’s proposal is to fully remove the tower and cut the three supporting piles to six feet below the ocean floor, and to restore the entire area to conditions prior to the project, Jacek said. As proposed, the removal would take 22 days and occur in July, she said.
Installed in the sound in 2003, the pale-gray steel tube is about five feet in diameter at the base, narrowing to about 18 inches at the top. It is 6½ miles off Hyannis, 13 miles from Nantucket and nine miles from Martha’s Vineyard.
Data from the tower has been delivered to some universities to provide more knowledge about the atmospheric and oceanic conditions on Nantucket Sound.
“We got a lot of great scientific data from that,” Gordon said.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its final regulations for the Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program, which was authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Out of those regulations have come 11 offshore wind energy leases along the Atlantic coast, overseen by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, including three leased properties south and southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.
On May 23, the state of Massachusetts announced that three electric distribution utilities in Massachusetts had chosen Vineyard Wind to move ahead with negotiating an 800-megawatt contract for a wind farm the company plans to build 15 miles south of the Vineyard.
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