Friday, January 16, 2009

Cape Wind could become "a bellweather for many offshore wind projects to come"

Important update!
Visit the Minerals Management Service Web site or more details

Cape Wind receives favorable federal environmental review

By Bina Venkataraman,
January 16, 2009

A benchmark in the country’s efforts to expand clean energy was reached today as the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm -- proposed in Nantucket Sound -- received a favorable final environmental review from a key federal agency.

Calling his agency’s report “ a milestone,” Minerals Management Service Director Randall Luithi said in a telephone interview this morning that Cape Wind could become "a bellweather for many offshore wind projects to come."

"The impacts appear to be nothing that cannot be mitigated," Luthi said of the project to erect 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound. While the environmental review is not a final ruling, officials expect it to strongly influence the US secretary of the Interior’s decision to award Cape Wind a lease for the project. The law requires that at least 30 days pass before the secretary enters a decision on the project, which will push the formal approval of Cape Wind into the Obama administration.

The offshore wind farm will still require several other federal, state, and local agency permits. Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind, said he expects that most of those permits could be secured "this winter," except for a Federal Aviation Administration permit that he said could take until at least the spring to secure.

"The significance of the report coming out today is that it’s the capstone of an eight-year effort and permitting review," said Rodgers in an interview before he had read the final environmental review or heard whether its content was favorable.

The Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with evaluating the impact of the project on wildlife, aviation, ship navigation, tourism, and a range of other concerns, received 42,000 public comments over the past year, which it responded to in its final review.

A draft environmental review of the project, released in January 2008, was also favorable, but the new report includes findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the project would not jeopardize the survival of key wildlife species in the region. It also includes recommendations from the US Coast Guard for avoiding navigational hazards.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department’s inspector general is conducting an investigation of how the Minerals Management Service handled Cape Wind, said Luthi. "It is a little unusual, I will say, to have an [inspector general] inspection before a decision is made," he said. The inspector general’s office did not immediately return a call requesting comment this morning.

Opponents of Cape Wind say that the federal agency’s release of the report on Cape Wind has been rushed and that concerns about the project’s impact on the view from historical and tribal ceremonial sites and navigational hazards have not been adequately considered. The central group leading the charge against Cape Wind, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, has promised lawsuits to prevent the construction of the wind farm and announced that it has started raising funds for a "legal defense fund."

Audra Parker, executive director of the group, said that because the Minerals Management Service has not yet finalized its rules for offshore renewable energy projects, the review of Cape Wind is premature.

“There’s no opportunity for the public to evaluate the project in the context of the rules,” Parker said. “It’s really putting the cart before the horse.”


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