Lawsuits Take Aim at America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

Lawsuits Take Aim at America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

HYANNIS, Massachusetts, May 2, 2010 (ENS) – A stack of lawsuits is piling up against the federal government in response to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s April 28 decision to approve the Cape Wind project, America’s first offshore wind farm.

After nearly 10 years of permitting battles, Cape Wind was approved to place 130 wind turbines on 25-square-miles of federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound off the Massachusetts coast. The developers hope to begin construction by year’s end.

A coalition of stakeholder groups has announced a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Minerals Management Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act.

“This fight is not over,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a member of the coalition.

“Litigation remains the option of last resort. However, when the federal government is intent on trampling the rights of Native Americans and the people of Cape Cod, we must act. We will not stand by and allow our treasured public lands to be marred forever by a corporate giveaway to private industrial energy developers,” said Parker.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts as seen from the International Space Station, April 14, 2010. (Photo courtesy NASA)

A lawsuit will be filed on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, including the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound; Three Bays Preservation; Animal Welfare Institute; Industrial Wind Action Group; Californians for Renewable Energy; the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation; and Oceans Public Trust Initiative, a project of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Land Institute.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, along with the Duke’s County/Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen Association, also will file suit against the federal Minerals Management Service for violations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

The Town of Barnstable has filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit on the same grounds.

And the Wampanoag Tribe is preparing to mount a legal challenge to the project for violations of tribal rights.

Additional legal issues include violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Parker says that Secretary Salazar’s decision ignores the recent positions taken against the project by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service, which ruled recently that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places which, like our national parklands, would provide it a higher level of protection from industrial development.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that Secretary Salazar deny or relocate the proposed Cape Wind project because its effects would be “pervasive, destructive, and, in the instance of seabed construction, permanent.”

The ACHP called on Secretary Salazar to either deny the project or relocate it to a nearby alternative such as the compromise location outside of Nantucket Sound approximately 10 miles south of the proposed site.

The compromise location, south of Tuckernuck Island, has gained the support of every stakeholder involved, including Native American tribal leaders, state and federal historic preservation agencies, environmental groups, cities and towns, elected officials, airports, ferry lines, chambers of commerce and many others.

“It is a shame that the Obama administration chose political expediency over developing a project in an environmentally responsible place that can actually be built,” said Parker. “The compromise location would have avoided years of litigation and allowed this project to move forward.”

Parker said that Secretary Salazar has not addressed the growing concerns in Massachusetts over the project’s energy costs to ratepayers and its overall cost to taxpayers.

Earlier this month Rhode Island rejected a deal between National Grid and an offshore wind project that would have set a rate that was nearly triple the current cost for electricity.

National Grid currently is negotiating a power puchase agreement with Cape Wind. Most estimates have put the cost of Cape Wind energy at two to three times the current rate for conventional power.

In addition, ISO New England recently announced would be necessary to do a $10 billion upgrade the region’s electrical grid and transmission facilities as a result of Cape Wind and other wind projects.

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles has expressed concern over the project’s energy costs as did the state’s largest business group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

In a survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts, a majority of consumers said they would not pay more for electricity produced by wind turbines.

The coalition says much of the public support for wind energy was “based on the false assumption that offshore wind will lower electric bills. At the projected Cape Wind power rate, nearly 80 percent of respondents registered opposition to the project.”

Approving the wind farm, 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,” he said, “and we will ensure that cultural resources will not be harmed or destroyed during the construction, maintenance, and decommissioning of the project.”

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, said Salazar, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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