Thursday, April 29, 2010

“America needs offshore wind power"

In the shadows of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion/oil leak (now estimated to be as much as 5,000 barrels a day) and the West Virginia mining disaster, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Cape Wind project. In doing so he has taken a significant step towards weaning the nation from its addiction to fossil fuels.

One can only hope that nearly a decade's worth of rigorous review will derail any further frivolous attempts to delay this critically important project. (GW)

Cape Wind OK’d in a first for the nation

Opponents vow lawsuit to continue nine-year battle

By Beth Daley
Boston Globe
April 29, 2010

US Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar yesterday approved the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the controversial Cape Wind project first proposed nine years ago in the beloved waters of Nantucket Sound, and proclaimed the dawn of a new era of clean energy in the United States.

“This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic Coast,’’ Salazar said at a State House press conference with Governor Deval Patrick at his side.

Cape Wind Associates, the developer, said it planned to begin construction of the 130 turbines about 5 miles off Cape Cod by the end of the year, even as the main opposition group announced that it would immediately file a lawsuit in an effort to block the $1 billion project.

Proposed at a time of increasing awareness of the threat of manmade global warming, Cape Wind became a cause célèbre for politicians and environmentalists who want the United States to move away from its reliance on fossil fuels for electricity. But the project drew just as passionate opposition from many residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, some of them moneyed and influential, who do not want their pristine views disturbed.

Big names, from Senator Edward M. Kennedy (against) to Walter Cronkite (against, then for) joined in the long battle. Neither man lived to see its resolution.

“America needs offshore wind power, and with this project Massachusetts will lead the nation,’’ Patrick said, adding that Cape Wind will create 1,000 construction jobs and help the state in its goal to be a national clean energy leader.

The project is also a critical milestone for President Obama, who pledged during his election campaign to make America a leader in clean energy but then failed to broker an international climate deal in Copenhagen last year. So far, the president has also been unable to sign an energy and climate bill into law. Even as the federal government developed offshore energy rules and as a suite of other projects were proposed off the East Coast in recent years, the Cape Wind decision loomed as a test of what kind of energy future the country would choose.

Salazar’s decision, first expected a year ago, was delayed because of complaints from two Wampanoag Native American tribes that the turbines, which would stand more than 400 feet above the ocean surface, would disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and burial grounds on the seabed. Nantucket Sound was once exposed land before the sea level rose thousands of years ago.

While Salazar said yesterday that he had ordered modifications to the project to avoid impacts on historic and cultural properties, most of them were announced years ago by Cape Wind, including a requirement that the turbines be painted off-white and reduced in number from 170 to 130. Salazar will require Cape Wind to conduct far more extensive archeological surveys in Nantucket Sound, although he indicated in federal filings that he doubts that many, if any, artifacts or ancestral remains will be found.

Salazar also said in federal filings that his agency wanted to consult with the tribes to determine any financial compensation for impacts on cultural resources. One possibility, he said, would be for Cape Wind to give the tribes $200,000 annually for the life of the 21-year project. In addition, the tribes could receive some of the $3.5 million the state of Massachusetts has set aside from Cape Wind to address impacts on historical and cultural resources.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said he was pleased Salazar would reopen government-to-government consultation, but said, “No amount of mitigation will change the fact that this is a site of great historical and cultural significance for our tribe.’’

The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha’s Vineyard posted a short statement on its website saying it was disheartened and indicated it would probably go to court to stop the project.

The main opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, wasted little time in launching the next salvo, vowing to seek an injunction in court to prevent construction while the case is played out.

“We will win in the courts based on fact, not politics,’’ Audra Parker of the alliance said angrily, shortly after Salazar’s announcement.

Yet for Jim Gordon, the often unemotional president of Cape Wind, the day unfolded like a dream. Gordon got a call from Salazar a half-hour before the interior secretary announced the decision.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,’’ Gordon said at a press conference at the Park Plaza Hotel yesterday afternoon. “It was like a film of nine years of events that went through my head.’’

Gordon said he hopes construction will begin by the end of this year and be completed by 2012. The wind farm is expected to produce enough wind power to handle three-quarters of the electric needs of the Cape and Islands, although the price of its electricity is expected to be higher than current prices now for traditional coal and gas power.

The project has undergone years of environmental review and been the subject of intense political maneuvering, including formidable opposition from Kennedy, whose Hyannis Port family compound overlooks Nantucket Sound. While opponents’ main concern is aesthetics — the turbines would be visible on the horizon off Cape Cod — the battle was fought by raising other issues, including possible effects on property values and harm to birds, fishing, aviation, and historic and cultural sites.

Paul Kirk, a close friend of the late Senator Kennedy’s who served as interim senator after Kennedy’s death, said the veteran lawmaker would have been profoundly upset at yesterday’s announcement.

“He would have been gravely disappointed,’’ Kirk said. “I think this is seriously misguided. To me, this is like putting a big box store in West Barnstable Village before you figure out what the total zoning plan is for the town.’’

Yesterday, Senator John F. Kerry said he was convinced any concerns have been dealt with.

“I believe the future of wind power in the Massachusetts and the United States will be stronger knowing that the process was exhaustive,’’ Kerry said in a statement. “This is jobs and clean energy for Massachusetts.’’

Senator Scott Brown, however, called Salazar’s announcement misguided.

“With unemployment hovering near 10 percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape’s economy, such as tourism and fishing,’’ the Republican lawmaker said in a statement.

Martin Finucane, David Abel, Matt Viser, Susan Milligan, and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.