The Storm Raging over Cape Cod Wind

The shallow waters off Cape Cod, Mass., could soon be home to one of the most technically ambitious wind projects in the U.S. The Cape Wind LLC venture would be the first offshore facility. And at 420 megawatts, says the developer, it's big enough to affordably meet most of the Cape's growing power needs.

Just one hitch: A vocal corps of environmentally conscious locals think the wind-farm idea is a disaster waiting to be built. It's a rare case of green vs. green that could stunt further development of offshore wind power.

On one side is Jim Gordon, Cape Wind's president. With Europe's offshore wind projects in mind, he has devoted the past three years to planning the Cape's $750 million project. It encompasses a 24-square-mile "donut hole" of federal waters--south of the Cape and northeast of Martha's Vineyard--under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Gordon envisions 130 3.6-megawatt turbines a third of a mile apart. From the beach, he claims, they'll look like half-inch-high sticks on the horizon. "It's hard for me to understand why people would oppose this," he says--but others in his camp call it a clear-cut case of not-in-my-backyard.

Not so, object members of Save Our Sound, a nonprofit representing local residents, businesses, and environmentalists. SOS challenges virtually every claim made by Cape Wind, suggesting that the project's power will be more expensive than existing sources. SOS also contends that the turbines threaten the sound's rich bird and fish life, as well as the region's lucrative tourism industry.

The spat doesn't end there. In U.S. District Court in Boston, SOS hopes to undermine the project's legal foundations. The group questions whether the Army Corps has the authority to approve offshore construction of such towers, noting that there is a near-total void of federal rules governing offshore wind projects. "If this were an oil or gas proposal," says Isaac Rosen, executive director of SOS, "there would have been competitive bidding, royalty payments to the government, and 10 years of environmental studies."

If SOS prevails, Rosen expects Congress will be forced to modify existing rules governing offshore energy activities, putting wind under the same umbrella as oil. If SOS loses, Cape Wind says it's on track to start generating power by 2005. Meanwhile, the green-vs.-green fracas will only grow louder.

By Adam Aston in New York

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