U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Bid Faces Delay

An already drawn-out permitting process for one of the most anticipated and controversial wind energy projects in the U.S. stands a chance to take even longer and to cost the project developers more money.

Concord, Massachusetts – November 4, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] At a recent public information meeting in North Falmouth, Massachusetts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), overseeing the permitting process, announced a list of alternative sites that will need to be investigated as part of the Cape Wind wind farm Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Cape Wind proposed offshore wind farm, under development by the Boston-based Cape Wind Associates, would consist of 130 wind turbines totaling 420 MW. Not only would this project be one of the largest wind farms in the U.S., providing a possible three-quarters of Cape Cod, Massachusetts’s electrical needs, but it could also be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. While Europeans have embraced wind farms in both their on and off-shore incarnations, both the permitting processes and opposition movements have proved more stifling in the U.S. Cape Wind’s Communication’s Director, Mark Rodgers said they are not only facing more stringent hurdles than typical developers in Europe, but a permitting process,”…tougher than any of New England’s coal, oil or gas power plants ever had to endure.” Part of the issue is that while the USACE has a long history of heading up the permitting process for projects in navigable waterways, they have never specifically permitted an offshore wind farm. In order to address the myriad issues that arise in siting such a project, the USACE has been coordinating research with other state and Federal agencies. Among this research is considering any possible alternatives. “The Corps has been working closely with federal, state and local agencies on developing the alternatives analysis,” said District Engineer Col. Thomas Koning, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District. “Through the scoping hearings and public meetings since the spring of 2002, 17 sites were identified by the public and cooperating agencies as possible alternatives.” The USACE said five screening criteria were used to evaluate those alternatives: availability of renewable energy (i.e. wind power classification); ISO New England grid connection availability (connection point, transmission/distribution lines, efficiency/capacity); available land or water area; engineering constraints (constructability, geotechnical conditions, water depths); and legal/regulatory constraints (i.e. endangered species, shipping channels, etc.). “Working with the cooperating agencies, the Corps felt it needed to take a more flexible, subjective approach to developing representative sites for the alternative analysis,” Koning said. “A strict pass/fail screening process wouldn’t work. NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) allows the Corps to limit alternatives to a reasonable number so that the EIS can compare the alternatives.” While Rogers said Cape Wind has already reviewed other sites and has, “no objection, in principle, in supplying additional information to the USACE,” he is confident their original location will remain the best option. “In a way, this is a pass/fail scenario,” Rogers said. “The Corps cannot instruct us to build in a different site. The Alternative Site analysis is relevant to them in the overall public interest determination they will have to ultimately make on whether or not to approve our permit application to build an offshore renewable energy wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal. We are confident Horseshoe Shoal will emerge from this process as the site with the greatest benefits and least impacts.” While Rogers said USACE’s Alternative Sites Analysis is always part of an EIS like this for use in a NEPA review, he hopes it won’t slow the overall process to a crawl. Not only will the process add time but Rogers said it, “…will be Cape Wind’s responsibility to gather the data the Corps requires,” and that it does represent added costs to the developers. “The US Army Corps of Engineers demonstrated that this 17-agency public interest review is both comprehensive and rigorous,” Rogers said. “Cape Wind only asks that the Alternative Review analysis not unduly delay the overall review process as that would delay the public interest benefits of the Cape Wind project from being realized, such as cleaner air, new jobs, and reduced reliance on expensive foreign energy.” The USACE, with cooperating agency consultation, determined possible sites that cover the spectrum of: 1) Shallow water off-shore site; 2) Deeper water off-shore site; 3) On-shore site; 4) Two or more smaller sites combined to achieve the intended purpose and need. “Using that flexible concept, the Corps selected six specific sites that will be carried forward for more detailed review in the windfarm EIS,” Koning said. The onshore alternative is MMR — the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod, Mass.; the shallow water alternatives are three — Cape Wind’s preferred alternative of Horseshoe Shoal, and also Tuckernuck Shoal, and Hankerchief Shoal, Mass.; and the combined locations are New Bedford Harbor, Mass., and a reduced footprint at Horseshoe Shoal. The area south of Tuckernuck Island, Mass., will serve as a deep-water site. “Using representative samples will give us a basis for comparison,” Koning said. “We will be better able to determine what the relative merits are of each type of alternative site. This process will ensure that we do what is required in accordance with the intent of NEPA and for the public interest determination of this windfarm review as required by our regulations.” The next step will be for the USACE, along with Cape Wind and the cooperating agencies, to asses what information is currently available on the six alternative sites and determine what additional information will be needed to be included in the Draft EIS. Based on the EIS scope developed last year, the factors that will be addressed for each of the alternative sites undergoing detailed review will include: avian, marine/habitat, fisheries and benthos, aviation, telecommunications, navigation, socio-economic, cultural/historical properties, aesthetic/landscape/visual, recreation, noise and vibration, water quality, electric and magnetic fields, air and climate, safety, engineering, and economics. For more information on the permit application check the USACE website at the link below.
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