Light Turns Green for America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 28, 2010 (ENS) – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today approved Cape Wind, America’s first offshore wind farm on 25-square-miles of federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound off the Massachusetts coast. But the developer of the $1 billion wind farm must reduce the number of turbines to ease the visual impact and reconfigure the turbine array to move it farther from Nantucket Island.

In an announcement at the State House in Boston with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Salazar said, “After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project at the Horseshoe Shoal location.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announces approval of Cape Wind with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, far left. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

“The need to preserve the environmental resources and rich cultural heritage of Nantucket Sound must be weighed in the balance with the importance of developing new renewable energy sources and strengthening our nation’s energy security while battling climate change and creating jobs,” Salazar said. “After almost a decade of exhaustive study and analyses, I believe that this undertaking can be developed responsibly and with consideration to the historic and cultural resources in the project area.”

“Impacts to the historic properties can and will be minimized and mitigated and we will ensure that cultural resources will not be harmed or destroyed during the construction, maintenance, and decommissioning of the project,” he said.

“With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region,” Salazar said.

“Secretary Salazar’s decision today to approve Cape Wind has launched the American offshore wind industry,” said Cape Wind President Jim Gordon. “It allows our nation to harness an abundant and inexhaustible clean energy source for greater energy independence, a healthier environment and green jobs.”

“We hope to begin construction of Cape Wind before the end of the year,” Gordon said.

Reflecting on the nine-year long permitting path for Cape Wind, he said, “Going first is never easy and Cape Wind is proud of the role we played in raising awareness for what will become a major component of our energy future and in helping the United States develop a regulatory framework for this new exciting industry.”

Simulation of the Cape Wind turbine array from the nearest point of land (Image courtesy Cape Wind)

“What enabled Cape Wind to reach this crucial milestone is the steadfast support of leading environmental, labor, health and trade organizations and the support of the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts citizens who have repeatedly made their voices heard,” Gordon said. “We also appreciate Governor Deval Patrick’s support, vision and leadership to make Massachusetts a global leader in offshore renewables and the clean energy economy.”

Earlier this month, Cape Wind signed an agreement to buy 130 wind turbines for the project from Siemens Energy Inc., instead of the 170 turbines in the original project design. Siemens announced that it would open its U.S. offshore wind office in Boston.

The wind farm site on Horseshoe Shoals lies outside shipping channels, ferry routes and flight paths but is adjacent to power-consuming coastal communities.

The Cape Wind project is expected to generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts with an average anticipated output of 182 megawatts. At average expected production, Cape Wind could produce enough energy to power more than 200,000 homes in Massachusetts. The project includes a 66.5-mile buried submarine transmission cable system, an electric service platform and two 115-kilovolt lines connecting to the mainland power grid.

The project will create several hundred construction jobs and be one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the nation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually said Salazar, the equivalent of removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year.

A number of similar projects have been proposed for other northeast coastal states, positioning the region to tap one million megawatts of offshore Atlantic wind energy potential, which could create thousands of manufacturing, construction and operations jobs and displace older, inefficient fossil-fueled generating plants, helping to combat climate change.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar takes media questions on Cape Wind at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. From left: Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, Secretary Salazar, Bureau of Indian Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Del Laverdure. February 2010. (Photo courtesy DOI)

U.S. Senator Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, today issued a statement opposing the wind farm. “While I support the concept of wind power as an alternative source of energy, Nantucket Sound is a national treasure that should be protected from industrialization,” Brown said.

“With unemployment hovering near 10 percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape’s economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area, said Brown. “I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number predictions we have heard from proponents of the project.”

Salazar emphasized that his department has taken “extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on traditional cultural resources and historic properties,” including government-to-government consultations with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and that he was “mindful of our unique relationship with the Tribes and carefully considered their views and concerns.”

Because of tribal and community concerns, Interior has required Cape Wind to change the design and configuration of the wind farm and to conduct more seabed surveys to ensure that any submerged archaeological resources are protected before disturbing the seafloor.

Congressman Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, today also issued a statement in opposition to the wind farm, saying, “Cape Wind is the first offshore wind farm to be built in the wrong place, in the wrong way, stimulating the wrong economies.”

Offshore wind energy has great potential, but we have missed an opportunity here to do it right. It is simply bad public policy to give “no bid” leases to developers and their Wall Street investors for over 24 square miles of public waters and access to hundreds of millions in public subsidies each year,” Delahunt said.

“This will be the most expensive and most heavily subsidized offshore wind farm in the country at over $2.5 billion, with power costs to the region that will be at least double,” he said.

This meteorological tower on Horseshoe Shoal gathers wind and weather data. (Photo courtesy Cape Wind)

“Cape Wind will also be the first industrial scale wind power plant in the middle of an ocean sanctuary, in the middle of a candidate National Marine Sanctuary site, in a site eligible for listing on the National Register, in a Native American ‘sacred’ site, and in a federally designated critical fisheries habitat,” said Delahunt. “It’s the first wind farm in the Atlantic flyway; a major pathway for migratory birds and an important seabird habitat.

Bird conservationists are not happy with the decision. Dr. Michael Fry, director of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy, said, “The science collected for the project on bird collision threats is inadequate, and the site will reduce prime offshore sea-duck foraging habitat,” said Dr. Fry. “Further, there are data to suggest that loons will likely abandon the area for years to come, and there may be significant impacts to endangered roseate terns, which breed in nearby Buzzard’s Bay and feed in Nantucket Sound.”

But Citizens groups Clean Power Now and Civil Society Institute applauded the Cape Wind approval, saying it is “a real demonstration of what can happen when concerned citizens are mobilized through effective grassroots organization.”

A March 2009 survey commissioned by the Civil Society Institute found that 86 percent of Bay State residents, and 74 percent of Cape and islands residents, support Cape Wind.

Clean Power Now Executive Director Barbara Hill said, “We applaud Secretary Salazar for his vision and leadership in making this landmark decision and look forward to the day when the wind farm in Nantucket Sound will be producing the majority of the electrical needs of the Cape and islands establishing our region as a national model of sustainability and a clean energy future.”

Pam Solo, president, Civil Society Institute, said, “Cape Wind will bring jobs and manufacturing, as well as genuinely clean energy. A new offshore wind industry in America is launched today with this decision, which is a huge boost for the U.S. on the regional and national levels. This is an enormous accomplishment and is as much a victory for citizen participation as it is for clean energy.”

The regional energy utility National Grid is in negotiations for a power purchase agreement with Cape Wind.

National Grid President Tom King called today’s decision “a bold step by the Obama administration,” saying, “Secretary Salazar’s decision marks an historic step forward for energy policy in the United States, our region and the state of Massachusetts. State and federal renewable goals can only be met with an open-minded attitude to energy alternatives.”

To those who object to the visual impact of 130 wind turbines, Salazar pointed out today that a number of tall structures, including broadcast towers, cellular base station towers, local public safety communications towers and towers for industrial and business uses are located around the area.

Three submarine transmission cable systems already traverse the seabed to connect mainland energy sources to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. “Visual and physical impacts associated with Nantucket Sound and its associated shorelines abound,” said Salazar, “it is not an untouched landscape.”

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