Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Historic decision on Cape Wind imminent

This morning Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick released an announcement comitting his state to a goal of building enough wind turbines in the state by 2020 to supply energy to 800,000 homes.

Meanwhile, Cape Wind, the nation's first proposed offshore wind farm is about to learn its fate. Later this week the U.S. Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service is expected to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on this historic project. Bassed on the findings in the draft EIS that was issued almost exactly one year ago, the project should receive permission to build from the feds.

The project's primary opponents -- a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound -- vows to continue their fight to block the project from being built -- at any and all costs. The group's spokespeople have made it clear that no decision short of condemning the project will satisfy them despite evidence that suggests it would benefit Cape ratepayers and poses no threats to the environment or local economy. To the surprise and disappointment of many environmentalists, their view is shared by Senator Ted Kennedy. (GW)

First Offshore Wind Farm is Meeting Stiff Resistance

By Stephen Power

Wall Street Journal

January 13, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The fate of what would be the nation's first offshore wind farm is calling attention to the political obstacles facing renewable power, despite President-elect Barack Obama's determination to greatly expand its use.

The project, called Cape Wind, is a Boston firm's plan to build 130 windmills across 25 square miles of federal waters off Cape Cod.

Supporters say it will deliver annual reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road. Opponents warn it will industrialize Nantucket Sound, a popular summer playground, and interfere with fishing and recreation. Some time before Mr. Obama is inaugurated Jan. 20, the Bush administration is expected to publish a review of the expected environmental impact of the project, resolving the last major regulatory hurdle blocking the project in Washington.

The conflict over Cape Wind illustrates a persistent problem for renewable power. Policy makers and environmentalists love the idea of generating clean power from the sun, wind, water and geothermal sources to displace imported oil. But at the local level, there is often opposition to the hardware needed to make renewable power work: big windmills, acres of solar panels and large-scale transmission lines.

Resolving such conflicts will be critical if Mr. Obama's administration is to achieve his goal of generating at least 25% of the nation's electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Wind, solar and geothermal energy currently account for less than 1% of U.S. electricity supply.

The Energy Department concluded last year that wind energy could generate 20% of the nation's electricity by 2030. But that would happen only if a "superhighway" transmission system is created to carry wind power from sparsely populated areas to states and cities that need the energy.

"You can build wind farms all day, but unless you have eminent domain to allow you to build a 1,000-mile transmission line, it won't work," says James Rogers, chief executive of North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp., referring to proposals in Congress to mandate that states derive a minimum percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Duke has opposed proposals in Congress to establish a national renewable portfolio standard.

Transmission-line projects and wind farms also encounter resistance at the local level from groups that object to the impact on property values, endangered species or scenery. Such opposition can be critical to determining whether projects get built, because they typically require approval from state or local authorities.

In the case of Cape Wind, a group of Cape Cod residents opposed to the project have filed lawsuits in federal court in Massachusetts to block the endeavor, and enlisted powerful allies in Washington to slow the project.

In 2006, then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R., Alaska) inserted language into a Coast Guard spending bill to allow Massachusetts' then-governor, Mitt Romney, to veto it. The provision was dropped after other lawmakers objected.

Last month, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, James Oberstar (D., Minn.), asked the Coast Guard to wait 60 days before making a final recommendation to the U.S. Interior Department's Minerals Management Service on how to handle potential safety issues associated with the wind farm.

Rep. Oberstar has complained that the Cape Wind project is being considered "without the benefit of a uniform set of national navigational safety standards."

The wind farm's supporters have accused him of attempting to derail the project at the eleventh hour, and some have suggested he is acting at the behest of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.). Sen. Kennedy, whose family compound is in Hyannis Port, Mass., has long opposed the project.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Oberstar said his request to the Coast Guard reflects his desire for "a fair and open process" transparent to the public, not any effort to help Sen. Kennedy.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Kennedy said the senator's aides have spoken to Rep. Oberstar's staff about Cape Wind, but neither the senator nor his aides asked Rep. Oberstar to weigh in with the Coast Guard in this instance. She added that the senator's objections to the project are "based on safety, environmental, fishing, economic and public interest issues" -- not the project's potential impact on the view from his home.

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind LLC, the closely held firm developing the wind farm, says that if it is successful, it could be easier to build more offshore wind farms in the future. But Mr. Rodgers says he expects continued legal challenges, even if the government blesses the project. "Our opponents have proven to be quite litigious," he says.

A spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound says the group sees "lots of room to protest" the government review.


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