Feds Put Positive Spin on Offshore Wind Farm, Critics Persist

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 19, 2009 (ENS) – America’s first offshore wind farm has moved closer to the construction stage now that the federal government has released a favorable Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project.

The Minerals Management Service Friday issued a 2,800-page FEIS on the Cape Wind project planned for Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts that says the wind farm’s impact on the environment would be minimal or negligible.

Cape Wind Associates plans to install 130 wind turbines across 25 miles of federal waters, enough to generate an estimated 450 megawatts of power. The wind farm will interconnect with and deliver power to the New England Power Pool.

“This report validates the project will create new jobs, increase energy independence and fight global warming while being a good neighbor to the ecosystem of Nantucket Sound,” said the project’s developer, Jim Gordon.

A computer simulation of what the Cape Wind installation would look like from the closest point on shore, Cotuit, 5.6 miles away. (Image courtesy Cape Wind)

Cape Wind Associates has spent $40 million and endured seven and a half years of environmental reviews, scores of public hearings and community meetings and court challenges to bring the project this far, Gordon told reporters at a news conference Friday.

While he said it would take another $1 billion to construct the project, and this financing has not yet been secured, Gordon was delighted with the Minerals Management Service FEIS.

“Massachusetts is one major step closer to becoming home to America’s first offshore wind farm and becoming a global leader in the production of offshore renewable energy,” he said.

“This moment would not have arrived without the steadfast support of environmental, labor, health and citizen advocacy groups throughout the region and I want to thank them for the important role they have played throughout this public process.”

The Minerals Management Service FEIS states that:

* Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound is environmentally and economically superior to the alternative site locations that were studied.

* Cape Wind will reduce regional air pollution emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, pollutants that harm human health.

* Cape Wind will reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by 880,000 tons per year.

* Building Cape Wind will create hundreds of jobs and generate over a half-billion dollars in non-labor purchases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

* Cape Wind will not increase energy prices in New England and could help to lower energy clearing prices.

* Most of Cape Wind’s electricity will be consumed on Cape Cod and the Islands where it will supply three-quarters of that region’s electricity and improve electric transmission performance.

* Cape Wind will have a substantial positive impact on electrical generating capacity and help Massachusetts achieve its renewable energy requirements under the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

* Cape wind will have no major impacts on navigation, fishing, or tourism.

Now that the Minerals Management Service has issued the environmental impact statement, its Record of Decision on granting a lease to Cape Wind could come within 30 days.

According to the FEIS the federal agency’s final decision “would account for the regional, state, and local benefits and impacts as well as for the overall public interest of the United States.”

The FEIS comes one year after Minerals Management Service issued a Draft EIS which generated over 42,000 written public comments, over 40,000 of which were in support of the project.

Opponents include Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Save Our Sound, the Nantucket Soundkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Alliance issued a statement Friday calling the FEIS “inadequate and misleading.”

“MMS has released this final report at the 11th hour of the Bush administration despite an ongoing investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General regarding potential misconduct in MMS’ review of Cape Wind,” the group said.

“While MMS has grossly misrepresented Cape Wind’s impact on air traffic as ‘negligible to minor,’” the Federal Aviation Administration has found “‘potential for physical and/or electromagnetic interference to the radar systems used by the FAA’ and will begin a new study of aeronautical impact,” the Alliance said.

The FAA has previously issued a “presumed hazard” determination for Cape Wind because of potential impact to the 400,000 flights per year that travel over the proposed project footprint.

The U.S. Coast Guard also has acknowledged the potential for radar interference to vessel navigation.

The Minerals Management Service released the Cape Wind FEIS before final regulations in place for offshore renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Alliance is critical of the federal agency saying, “Denying the public an opportunity to review Cape Wind in the context of the pending regulations, MMS has failed to complete OCS rules and has therefore violated section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required that regulations be finalized by May 2006.”

The Alliance requests that “the public be given no less than 90 days to review and comment on the highly technical, 2,000-plus page FEIS. Moreover, we ask that the final Record of Decision not be released until the above concerns, and additional issues that may arise under more detailed analysis, be fully addressed and reviewed by the public.”

Gordon told reporters that Cape Wind needs only the MMS Record of Decision, a final approval from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board and the FAA approval before the project can begin construction.

Cape Wind officials expect to complete the permitting process by March 2009.

Gordon says, “Cape Wind’s proposal to build America’s first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal would provide three-quarters of the electricity used on Cape Cod and the Islands from clean, renewable energy – reducing this region’s need to import oil, coal and gas. Cape Wind will create new jobs, stable electric costs, contribute to a healthier environment, increase energy independence and establish Massachusetts as a leader in offshore wind power.”

Governor Deval Patrick said last week he wants the state to be producing 2,000 megawatts of wind energy annually by 2020, enough to power 800,000 homes, about 10 percent of the state’s present energy needs. The state has only nine large wind turbines now, producing less than seven megawatts a year.

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