Pivotal Cape Wind Farm Report Looks Favorable

The proposed 420 MW offshore wind farm proposal from the Massachusetts-based Cape Wind Associates has undergone nearly three years of intense research to determine its potential effects on the area. During that time, the proposal has been met with both sincere anticipation from renewable energy proponents and fierce, organized opposition. The project now enters a new phase with the official completion of the 3,800 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released by the Army Corps of Engineers. The report appears to assuage some persistent concerns that have been levied upon the project and may well be one of the project’s last major hurdles before planning permission.

The report combines three years of scientific, environmental and economic analysis and includes the input of 17 federal and state cooperating agencies with inclusive public participation. The report’s release will start a 60-day public comment period, during which four public hearings will be held. “This report is a big step toward greater energy independence, lower energy costs, new jobs and a healthier environment,” said Jim Gordon, President of Cape Wind. “The release of this report represents a notable victory for an informed public dialogue during the permitting process given the sustained campaign by project opponents to keep this report from ever seeing the light of day. This is great news for citizens hoping to turn decades of rhetoric into action on renewable energy.” The release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement follows two positive reports from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board and the Department of Energy that also found that the Cape Wind project would produce important energy, environmental and economic benefits for the region. “Natural gas and oil prices have reached record heights; the Cape Wind DEIS is a timely reminder that we can take steps to fight back. Harnessing wind power will help propel us toward a healthier environment and increased energy security and independence,” Gordon said. Cape Wind Associates, the project developers, outlined some notable findings in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ DEIS: Energy Cape Wind would reduce energy costs in several ways. Energy produced by Cape Wind will displace an equivalent amount of energy that would otherwise have been needed from more expensive fossil fuel sources. Cape Wind will place downward pressure on the price of electricity in any given hour in the New England spot market for all consumers. By decreasing the region’s overall dependence on, and demand for, natural gas, Cape Wind would save money for natural gas customers by helping to stabilize volatile gas price fluctuations. Cape Wind would reduce the cost of compliance with the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) for Massachusetts electricity consumers. Cape Wind will also contribute to reducing the region’s dependency on foreign oil. Economic The manufacturing, construction, and operation of Cape Wind would have a positive economic and fiscal impact on Barnstable County and on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and adjacent areas of Rhode Island. The report estimates that 600 to 1,000 new jobs would be created during the construction period. The combination of direct, indirect and induced effects of Cape Wind would generate permanent economic changes in Massachusetts during the operation phase, most of which would be concentrated in Barnstable County, that will result in annual permanent increases of the following: 154 jobs, $21.8 million in economic output; $10.2 million in value added; and, nearly $7 million in labor income. According to the United States Department of Energy, Cape Wind would also have economic benefits at the national level on the US economy in the range of $1.5 to $2.0 billion. There is no expected adverse impact upon local real estate prices or tourism. Cape Wind will likely have a negligible effect on the use of recreational resources and a positive effect on tourism in general for Cape Cod and the Islands. It is conceivable that the additional tourist activity could result in an increase in other recreational activities in the area. Air Quality, Health and Global Warming Cape Wind could significantly reduce the amount of pollution we breathe and help to reduce mercury emissions, ozone and acid rain in region. Cape Wind could have an annual cumulative beneficial effect on public health estimated at approximately $53 million dollars resulting from reduced power plant pollution. Cape Wind provides an opportunity, and an example of how to achieve a significant annual and long-term reduction of greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel plants to help stem global warming. Cape Wind would offset approximately one million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide annually. Fishing Cape Wind is not anticipated to have substantial impacts on commercial fishing activities currently occurring, since Cape Wind will not request any restrictions on fishing within the wind park during its operations and given the wide spacing between wind turbines and that the electric cables will be buried at a minimum depth of six feet. Temporary impacts to all vessels (including commercial fishing vessels) will be limited to the temporary confined work area around the cable and each wind turbine actively under construction during installation. Due to the wide spacing of the wind turbines, the physical presence of these structures should not interfere with recreational fishing activity, including maneuvering of recreational vessels or using recreational gear. The presence of the turbine foundations may in fact enhance recreational fishing for certain species such as Atlantic cod, black sea bass, and scup. Given that no substantial adverse impacts to finfish and commercial/recreational fishing are anticipated from Cape Wind, no net change in the socioeconomic condition of the fishing industry on the Cape and Islands is expected as a result of the wind park. Sea Navigation It is expected that the construction and operation of Cape Wind will not substantially adversely impact general commercial/recreational vessel navigation or ferry operations in this area of Nantucket Sound. The large spacing of the wind turbines of .34 nautical mile by .54 nautical mile would allow those vessels not restricted by depth to pass easily between the wind turbines. The risk of a vessel colliding with a wind turbine is low, given the Wind Park’s location away from typical vessel routes, the small diameter of the towers, and the large spacing between the wind turbines. Air Navigation The FAA issued a Determination of No Hazard to air Navigation regarding Cape Wind. Specifically, the FAA found that Cape Wind would have no adverse impact upon: air navigation, communications, radar, control system facilities, air traffic operations enroute through Nantucket Sound under VFR conditions, air traffic operations inbound, outbound, or enroute through the Nantucket Sound airspace under IFR conditions. Ocean Ecology The wind turbine foundations will provide additional hard substrate habitat for benthic life (dwellers of the ocean floor) and may attract types of fish such as Atlantic cod, black sea bass and scup, however given the turbine spacing, these isolated structures will not substantially alter the ecology of Nantucket Sound. Modeling simulations to evaluate underwater sound during all phases of the project suggest that impacts to finfish from normal operation of the wind turbines would be minimal or non-existent. Temporary avoidance behavior in marine mammals and sea turtles in the project vicinity is expected during project construction, similar to avoidance behavior observed during heavy pleasure boat use, ferry traffic or heavy fishing activity. Underwater sound levels during construction at and beyond the 500 meter safety radius are below the level suggested by NMFS for preventing injury or harassment to marine mammals and sea turtles. Once operational, the presence of the wind farm is not expected to substantially impact marine mammal and sea turtle movement and populations. Birds At most wind power facilities, the numbers of bird fatalities have been low overall and are orders of magnitude smaller than from other human causes of bird fatalities. The estimated small number of birds killed by wind turbines is unlikely to cause bird population declines. Two federally-listed bird species (the endangered Roseate Tern and the threatened Piping Plover) were evaluated to determine if Cape Wind is likely to result in adverse impacts to these species as required by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Population modeling and analysis of potential impacts show that it is unlikely that biologically significant risks to these two avian species could result from the construction/decommissioning or operation/maintenance of Cape Wind. Detailed bird activity mapping in Nantucket Sound from radar, boat and aerial observations are provided in the DEIS. There is less bird activity over Horseshoe Shoal than in many other areas of Nantucket Sound. Sand and Ocean on Horseshoe Shoal The installation of the project will have a similar impact on the sea bottom of Horseshoe Shoal as is experienced during a storm, only in a more limited area. Cape Wind’s operations will not substantially impact sand waves, currents, or waves in Nantucket Sound. Cape Wind will not have any measurable impact on water temperature. Visual The project will be visible from areas of the shoreline and from other areas of Nantucket Sound. Daytime and nighttime visual simulations from several points on shore are provided in the DEIS. The visual simulation and impact evaluation methods were applied conservatively, generally providing the most visible portrayal of the wind park. The simulations used clear sky conditions with almost no visual screening from topography or vegetation and they do not take into account the blocking effect of the curvature of the earth or haze on the horizon. Noise Based upon modeling, no noise impacts from the operations of the wind turbines are expected for boaters approaching Horseshoe Shoal. Boaters traveling within Horseshoe Shoal may hear wind turbine noise depending on their location, weather conditions, and on the amount of noise coming from their own boat. People onshore will not hear the operations of the wind turbines or the foghorns that will be used when needed for marine safety that will have a range of one half mile. At two shore locations, Point Gammon, and Cape Pogue, in certain weather conditions, some turbine foundation pile driving sounds may be slightly audible during the installation of the project. Alternative Sites An assessment and comparison of fossil fuel fired power plants as well as other types of renewable energy were made. Each was studied for reliability, the current status of the technology, its ability to serve regional need, and its associated environmental impacts. Fossil fuel power is reliable but produces unwanted air emissions which contribute to regional air quality issues. Biomass also produced air emissions. Solar is not economically suitable for a large scale generation project in New England. Wave and tidal technology require further development before they can be feasible for a large scale application in New England. Seventeen sites were evaluated in New England for wind power, eight upland locations and nine offshore locations. Through the preliminary screening of the 17 sites, six sites were selected for additional environmental review and comparison. Horseshoe Shoal was shown to be technically, environmentally and economically preferable to other alternative sites.
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