Sunday, December 07, 2008

"The Coast Guard has to make the assessment on whether we can do this project or not"

What a long, strange trip it has been for the nation's first proposed offshore wind project. Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon has endured eight years of unprecedented review in search of the necessary federal and state permits that will allow the construction of 130 electricity-generating wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Much of the project scrutiny has been driven by legitimate concerns about potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts. While there are a number of offshore wind farms off the coasts of the European Union, the ecological and cultural differences that exist warrant the undertaking of studies based on local conditions. But there is no question that the process has been prolonged by the efforts of NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard)-inspired activities including court challenges, attempted political sabotage and misrepresentations about the viability and safety of offshore wind technology. (GW)

WOODS HOLE — The Coast Guard commander responsible for the waters off southeastern New England announced yesterday that the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm poses no significant problem for marine radar.

During a follow-up conference call with participants of an October workshop, Coast Guard Capt. Raymond Perry said if the developer adheres to proposed mitigation techniques and Coast Guard conditions the project is "doable."

"The Coast Guard has to make the assessment on whether we can do this project or not," Perry said. "I'm telling you right now that I have already made that determination."

Opponents of the project have said that a federal review of the proposed wind farm is being rushed and that — among a litany of other concerns — the turbines would be dangerous to recreational boaters, fishermen and ferries in the sound.

The plan by Cape Wind Associates LLC to build 130 wind turbines in the sound is at a critical juncture, with a final environmental report from U.S. Minerals Management Service expected out by the end of the year. Minerals Management Service is the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind, but as many as 19 cooperating agencies including the Coast Guard are participating in the process.

Perry released his conclusion after reviewing results of a $100,000 study commissioned by the Coast Guard on the potential effects of the wind turbines on marine radar.

The study, performed by Maryland-based Technology Service Corp., included up to 100 gigabytes in video of radar screens that showed various scenarios in which the wind turbines could interfere with radar, Perry said.

Although it was not possible to distribute the video because of its size, Perry suggested participants in the marine radar workshop, including ferry captains and other opponents of the project, view the video at Coast Guard facilities in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Comments on the study must be received by Monday, Perry said.

The Minerals Management Service has agreed to wait until after Dec. 15 to release its final environmental report, so the Coast Guard can submit its recommendation, he said.

Perry examined two basic scenarios in his analysis of the marine radar study, he said.

In a situation where a vessel is operating in the vicinity of the proposed wind farm, he concluded there should be few problems assuming that the "rules of the road" for maritime navigation are followed.

"It's basically just like operating along an island with channels along the way and people entering and exiting an existing channel," Perry said.

But in a situation where vessels would be operating inside the wind farm, using marine radar would be more "problematic," he said. "We found it very difficult for one vessel to see another vessel," Perry said of such a scenario.

In such a situation, mariners would have to concentrate above and beyond what is normally expected of them, he said.

But, Perry said, measures proposed by Cape Wind and terms and conditions that the Coast Guard has required would limit the risks of collision. Some of the mitigation techniques included existing Coast Guard regulations, according to Edward LeBlanc, chief of the Coast Guard Waterways Management Division. Public education and a control center to monitor and communicate with traffic among the turbines would also help, LeBlanc said.

Traffic management methods are also a possibility, including specially marked lanes such as those that already exist in at least one European wind farm, he said.

Critics of Cape Wind who took part in yesterday's conference call said the Coast Guard review was rushed, and they questioned their ability to analyze the Coast Guard study's finding in the limited time Perry gave them. "I just have to let you know that the process is killing us here," said Wayne Kurker, owner of Hyannis Marina and co-founder of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. "We have to object to it."

Glenn Wattley, president and CEO of the alliance, said his group's experts would not have enough time to analyze the study and there was not enough information presented during yesterday's conference call in any case.

"There's controversy over whether we're even looking at the appropriate turbines for this process," he said, noting that the GE 3.6 megawatt turbine Cape Wind planned to use may not be available.

Other critics said the study as presented was incomplete.

"To make it available in this form is of no value," said retired Coast Guard Adm. John F. McGowan, of the McGowan Group, a consulting company that released an oil spill assessment critical of Cape Wind in 2005. "My simple suggestion would be to take the time that's needed."

Next steps
  • Monday - Comments on marine radar study due from panelists who participated in October workshop
  • Dec. 15 - Coast Guard recommendation due to U.S. Minerals Management Service
  • Before end of 2008 - Minerals Management Service to release final environmental impact statement
  • January 2009 - Record of Decision on Cape Wind by Minerals Management Service
  • 2009 - Permitting by other local, state and federal agencies


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