Approved! Cape Wind Gets Green Light

After almost a decade of debate, the U.S. will build its first offshore wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. In an historic announcement today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar appeared alongside Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to officially give his seal of approval to the Cape Wind Project. The project will consist of 130 turbines installed in Nantucket sound off the coast of Massachusetts. After weighing all points of view, Secretary Salazar decided there was no overriding reason to delay the project any more.

In his announcement, Salazar addressed those who felt wind turbines in Nantucket sound would destroy the natural environment. He explained that, in his view, human “relationships with the natural world are still evolving.”

Transmission cables, shipping channels and even houses have been erected in pristine environments, he said. Those are examples of changes to the natural landscape that humans have learned to live with — and wind turbines are no exception.

He also addressed the lengthy permitting process that Cape Wind was subject to, emphasizing that it took “nine years — nine years,” saying it twice to make his point. “There is no doubt that this project has been thoroughly reviewed…There is no reason why an offshore wind permit should take a decade to be approved,” Sec. Salazar said.

In 2001, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon put forward a plan to build the first offshore wind farm in the United States off the coast of Massachusetts in Nantucket Sound. Nine years, countless public relations battles and a handful of lawsuits later, the project is now set to move forward. In March, Cape Wind announced an agreement with Siemens to supply 130 of its 3.6-megawatt (MW) turbines for the project.

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

Construction of the project is expected to start in the next year once a few remaining logistical issues are resolved. Gordon said that he expects project financing to be in place by the end of 2010. Cape Wind has already entered into power purchase agreement negotiations with National Grid and a final agreement on that deal is also expected in the months leading up to construction.

“Secretary Salazar’s decision marks an historic step forward for energy policy in the United States, our region and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. State and federal renewable goals can only be met with an open-minded attitude to energy alternatives,” said Tom King, president of National Grid. “Our negotiations are going very well and we are optimistic that we will have more to say about our progress in the near future.”

The developer will be forced to make a few changes to the project, including reducing in the number of turbines from 170 to 130 and adjusting the orientation of the machines. The full decision, expected to be released in the coming days, will include a list of other possible environmental mitigation measures related to construction.

The decision from Sec. Salazar did not come without opposition. In the last 6 months, the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes asked that Nantucket Sound be given cultural heritage site status, claiming that the project would obscure the view from an ancient burial ground.

The application was considered by the National Park Service’s Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places and Nantucket Sound was deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The decision had the potential to block the development of not only Cape Wind, but other offshore renewable energy projects in federal waters. The concerns delayed Sec. Salazar’s final decision by a month.

Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick, who has been a big supporter of the project, thanked Salazar for his decision. Patrick said he believes that the decision will help move the U.S. ahead in the clean energy race. “We are one our way,” he said. “If we get clean energy right, the whole world will be our customer.”

The wind industry, which has long been waiting for this decision, was encouraged by the announcement. Industry leaders from the American Wind Energy Association said that development of the Cape Wind project will open up the country to more investment in this fast-growing sector.

“The U.S. offshore wind industry will build on the success and the lessons learned from the nearly twenty years of experience in Europe to provide clean, pollution-free, electricity along the coasts and in the Great Lakes. With policy support in the America we can incent that new manufacturing sector to build here,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the AWEA.

Interior Secretary Salazar said that when completed, the project will bring up to 1,000 construction jobs to the region as well as a number of full time jobs over the 30 year lifetime of the project.

For more on the history of the Cape Wind project, click here.


For more on the challenges that still face offshore wind in the U.S. and the status of other projects, click here.

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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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