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U.S. Approves First Offshore Wind Farm Near Cape Cod

A Combo of two computer-generated Images
This combination photo shows two different undated computer-generated renderings of a wind farm proposed by Cape Wind Associates LLC. The rendering at left is a computer-generated image , provided by Cape Wind Associates LLC, which is the developer, showing the view of the proposed wind farm from the Cotuit shoreline on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The rendering at right is a computer-generated image, provided by Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the project, showing a view of the proposed wind farm from an undisclosed location. Source: Cape Wind Associates LLC via Bloomberg (left rendering) and Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound via Bloomberg (right rendering)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the first wind farm in U.S. waters, a project of more than $1 billion off the Massachusetts coast that was opposed by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

Cape Wind, 130 wind-powered turbines to be placed in the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound, will have to be reconfigured to “reduce the visual impact” from land in order to go forward, Salazar said in a statement today. When completed the wind farm may generate enough power for more than 200,000 average U.S. homes, the Interior Department said.

Homeowners whose ocean views would be affected and local environmentalists spent $20 million over nine years to block the project. The wind farm also was opposed by Indian tribes and Kennedy, a Democrat who represented Massachusetts in Congress for 46 years until he died in August. The turbines would be visible from the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, though Salazar said steps have been taken to improve the view.

“I am convinced there is a path we can take forward that both honors our responsibility to protect the natural and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound, and at the same time meets the need to repower our economy with clean energy,” Salazar said today at the Massachusetts statehouse in Boston.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and nephew of the late senator, said the decision will cost Massachusetts taxpayers “billions of dollars” over the next two decades.

‘A Bad Decision’

“It will put out of business virtually every fisherman in the South Cape,” Kennedy, who serves on the board of VantagePoint Venture Partners, a clean-energy venture capital firm based in San Bruno, California, said in an interview. “It’s a bad decision from almost every angle.”

A month before Senator Kennedy died on Aug. 25, he wrote to President Barack Obama imploring him to halt action on the farm.

Leaders of 3,200 Wampanoag Indians with roots in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard say the turbine blades, reaching 440 feet into the air, would desecrate sunrise views essential to prayer ceremonies. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, in Hyannis, said the rotors could cause a “catastrophic kill” of some of the 6 million birds that migrate through the area.

The local chapter of the New York-based National Audubon Society said studies show the impact on birds would be minimal. The Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based environmental group, called the plan a “huge victory for clean energy.”

Further Approval Needed

Cape Wind still needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration because the turbines may interfere with tower-to- aircraft transmissions. A legal challenge to the wind farm is pending in the Massachusetts courts, and more lawsuits are likely, said Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton who specializes in ocean and coastal resources.

The developer will be required to paint the metal turbines “off-white to reduce contrast with the sea and sky yet remain visible to birds,” Salazar said in the statement.

The department is also requiring extra steps to ensure any archeological items in the seabed are protected before construction begins. Two Wampanoag tribes say Cape Wind would disturb burial grounds that are underwater.

The Obama administration said the wind farm will create “several hundred” construction jobs and amount to one of the nation’s largest single sources for the reduction of greenhouse- gas emissions blamed for climate change.

‘Bittersweet’ Victory

The project will cut carbon-dioxide pollution from traditional coal-fired power plants by 700,000 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 175,000 cars from the road annually, the Interior Department said.

“It’s bittersweet from an environmental standpoint,” Parenteau said. “On one hand you are talking about a very scenic area rich with wildlife. On the other hand, the wind farm is a clean-energy resource that in one stroke will remove close to 1 million tons of carbon a year from the air.”

Katherine Kennedy, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Cape Wind will put the U.S. in a better position to compete in the global clean-energy market.

“Europe is way ahead of the U.S.,” Kennedy, who isn’t related to the late senator, said. “Finally, the U.S. has entered the race and has a chance to catch up.”

Catching Up

The U.S. gets no power from offshore wind turbines. Northern Europe already has about 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, with a target to reach 40,000 megawatts by 2020, according to Walter Musial, head of offshore wind research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

About 6,300 megawatts of offshore wind are planned for the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, the Great Lakes and British Columbia, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Massachusetts’s two U.S. senators were divided on the matter, with Democrat John Kerry saying approval of the project means “jobs and clean energy” for his state. Republican Scott Brown said he disapproved of the “misguided decision,” citing his desire to protect Nantucket Sound from industrialization.

Cape Wind would generate a maximum of 468 megawatts from turbines spread over 25 square miles about 5 miles off mainland Cape Cod, in an area known as Horseshoe Shoal. The developer, Cape Wind Associates LLC, said March 31 it would buy turbines from Siemens AG of Germany, which pledged to open a U.S. office in Boston.

Staring Construction

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon said today that he hopes construction of the farm starts before the end of this year.

Principals in Energy Management Inc., a closely held Boston energy company, put up $40 million in development costs for the project from proceeds on the sale of six natural-gas power plants in 2000, according to Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.

The project still must secure financing and work out power contracts with the local utility, according to Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. He estimates the wind farm’s cost may exceed $2 billion, double the estimate cited by the administration.

National Grid Plc, a London-based company that delivers power to about 3.3 million customers in the U.S. Northeast, said in December it would negotiate to buy the electricity generated by the Cape Wind farm. The company said in a statement today the talks are going “very well.”

Obama has pledged to double renewable energy from the wind, sun and biodegradable waste in three years. The Energy Department says wind can supply 20 percent of U.S. power by 2030, up from 1.8 percent today.

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