U.S. Offshore Wind Farms Face Sudden Assault

LATE BREAKING NEWS: According to the morning papers of the Cape Cod Times and the Boston Herald, the Amendment proposed by Sen. John Warner of Virginia, which is detailed in the following story, was dropped late last night. The following story went live Thursday evening on RenewableEnergyAccess.com, but is included in today’s lead story slot to provide readers with information about how the proposed amendment could have affected the wind energy industry.

The first proposed offshore wind farm in the United States, and others like it, are under a last-minute legislative attack. An amendment could be passed in the U.S. Congress as soon as Friday that would bring the Cape Wind offshore wind project to a creaking halt. This comes just weeks after a lengthy environmental review was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project’s main regulatory body. Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia is reportedly circulating to the Conference Committee working on the Defense Authorization Act (DAA) an amendment that would no longer allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to permit offshore wind projects. The measure would put all pending and future offshore wind projects on hold while foisting the creation of an entire new set of offshore regulations on the country’s notoriously slow-acting Congress. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Warner oversees the budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A spokesman told the Boston Globe that Warner was concerned that wind projects could be developed without broad oversight and that he was particularly worried about projects off the coast of Virginia. While a New York Company named Winergy had laid out ambitious plans years ago for a major wind farm off the coast of Virginia, they have since dramatically scaled back their proposal and their momentum appears to have dithered. Warner’s perception of the current permitting process as lacking broader oversight, stands in stark contrast to the rigorous review which the Cape Wind proposal has been subjected to by the Army Corps of Engineers. The multi-year process, called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), includes consultation with 16 other state and federal agencies and multiple opportunities for the public and elected officials to participate. While the amendment hasn’t necessarily been added to the bill, the defense bill itself is likely to be voted on as soon as Friday and is considered by many to be ‘”must pass” legislation. Warner’s amendment would effectively end the permitting process of Cape Wind which began in 2001. The measure would also prevent Governor Pataki and the Long Island Power Authority from moving forward in the efforts to build an offshore wind farm south of Long Island. Industry sources also worry that the measure would set back America’s offshore wind energy projects for years if not decades. “Warner’s Amendment would single out clean offshore wind power from any other type of proposed commercial activity on the outer continental shelf,” Cape Wind said in a statement. According to Cape Wind, when the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on the issue last year, the overwhelming testimony (including labor and environmental witnesses, as well as Massachusetts legislative leadership) was that any changes should not interfere or disrupt the ongoing review of existing project applications. “Introducing this amendment late into the Conference Committee process prevents public scrutiny and input into this crucial public policy decision,” Cape Wind said in a statement. Both Cape Wind, and various environmental organizations, seem less against the idea of future changes to wind power regulations and permitting but more irritated with Warner’s particular method. “Sen. Warner’s amendment is raw politics at work,” said Philip Warburg, President of the Conservation Law Foundation, in a letter to the Massachusetts Congressional. “We are not opposed to the creation of a legislative framework that would address questions such as leasing and royalties in connection with the environmental review of proposed wind projects. In the meantime, however, existing environmental safeguards – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Army Corps’s Public Interest Review – must be allowed to do their job, which includes the authority to permit off-shore wind projects. This isn’t the first time the 130 turbine, 420 MW wind power proposal has faced questionable tactics. Warburg said this recent amendment follows closely on the heels of the Pentagon’s efforts to delay public review of the comprehensive DEIS review for the Cape Wind project, and is only the most recent in a series of maneuvers to ban off-shore wind development. Although the report has been completed for weeks, it has yet to be released to the public for review. Spokesmen for the Army Corps of Engineers initially said the Cape Wind DEIS would be released by the end of August. Then, they changed the expected release to early September. In response, ten of New England’s most prominent environmental groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the release the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Cape Wind project, as well as the correspondence surrounding the document and its continued delay. “The debate about the pros and cons of the Cape Wind project has gone on too long in the abstract,” said Nathanael Greene, Senior Policy Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Army Corps of Engineers has finished the draft EIS, and the Pentagon appears to be keeping it from the public. We hope the request for information that these groups are making today will shake the draft EIS loose or at a minimum explain why the Pentagon is holding it up. Playing politics with information is bad policy.”
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