As Mercury Plummets, Cape Wind Gains Heat

January 19th, 2009 - posted by Daniel Coffin

Friday morning as frigid air held its grasp on much of the Northeast, many residents dejectedly nudged their thermostats upward for relief from the bitter cold. But low temperatures couldn’t stop the Cape Wind controversy from gaining heat as news came that the Minerals Management Service, the lead federal agency in charge of reviewing the viability of the proposal, released a favorable final environmental review bolstering the initiative that has been subjected to a slew of setbacks, permitting reviews, public hearings, and political discord for nearly eight years.

The contentious Cape Wind project, which proposes to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Cape Cod, represents the largest single greenhouse gas reduction initiative in the United States. If built, it would become the first offshore wind farm in the nation, setting a precedent for permitting offshore wind farms throughout the U.S. All along, the proposal has been met with strident criticism regarding the potential threats Cape Wind poses to the community at large.

The 400-foot wind turbines have been cause for a wide range of concerns—including the potential harms the wind farm might have on wildlife, tourism, fisherman, and property values. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), a comprehensive 3,000 page document released Friday morning by the MMS, addresses these concerns and a range of others featuring a detailed analysis of every conceivable way in which the Cape Wind project could impact the surrounding community; issues include the wind farm’s affects on aviation traffic, oceanography, fisheries, population and economics, recreation and tourism, and urban infrastructure. MMS, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, concluded that the project’s negative implications (most classified as “minor”) could be mitigated and that the benefits, including providing three quarters of the Cape and Islands’ electricity, are in the best interests of the greater New England community.

Despite the favorable review, the nonprofit environmental organization Alliance to Save Nantucket Sound remains determined to keep Cape Wind from coming to fruition. Executive Director of the group Audra Parker said, “There’s no opportunity for the public to evaluate the project in the context of the rules.” Parker, like many others who oppose Cape Wind, believe the review has been rushed citing the fact that MMS has not yet finalized the parameters for offshore renewable energy projects. “It’s really putting the cart before the horse,” Parker said.

There still remain a handful of smaller hurdles. Thirty days must pass before the Secretary of the Interior can issue a “record of decision” that will officially grant a lease for construction, operation, and eventual decommissioning of the proposed wind facility. In addition to the approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior, a handful of smaller state and federal agencies must also O.K. the project; moreover, the shuffle of the incoming administration could delay further approval. And if the past eight tumultuous years have been any indicator, the project will surely have to overcome even more forthcoming legal issues and technicalities.

But, if Cape Wind and its supporters maintain the spirited momentum that has brought the project to it’s current level of relevancy, a new chapter in America’s clean power initiative may soon be realized.

Eddie Keenan IV

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