In a groundbreaking decision that some say
will usher in a new era of clean energy, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar said today he had approved the nation's first offshore wind
farm, the controversial Cape Wind project off of Cape Cod.
"This will be the first of many projects up and down the
Atlantic coast," Salazar said at a joint State House news conference
with Governor Deval Patrick. The decision comes after nine years of
battles over the proposal.
"America needs offshore wind power and with this project, Massachusetts will lead the nation," Patrick said.
The decision had been delayed for almost a year because of two
Wampanoag Native American tribes' complaints that the 130 turbines,
which would stand more than 400 feet above the ocean surface, would
disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and
burial grounds on the seabed. The ocean floor was once exposed land
before the sea level rose thousands of years ago.
Salazar said he had ordered modifications to "minimize and mitigate"
the impact of the project that would "help protect the historical,
cultural, and environmental resources of Nantucket Sound." He said his
approval would require the project developer, Cape Wind Associates, to
conduct additional marine archaeological surveys and take other steps
to reduce the project's visual impact.
"I am convinced there is a path we can take forward that both honors
our responsibility to protect historical and cultural resources and at
the same time meets the need to repower our economy with clean energy
produced from wind power," he said.
He said the United States was leading "a clean energy revolution
that is reshaping our future. ... Cape Wind is the opening of a new
chapter in that future and we are all a part of that history."
David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior, said federal
officials would enter into "government to government" conversations
with the Wampanoag tribes, if the tribes are interested, that could
result in financial compensation to "devote to cultural resources."
The state has already set aside $10 million for mitigation for the
project, state officials said, but it was unclear how much, if any,
would go to the Wampanoags. The developer is also being required to set
aside mitigation funds.
Yet it was unclear if the Wampanoag tribes would talk to the federal
government. Cedric Cromwell, Chairman, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe said in
a statement he was deeply disappointed with the decision.
"While we strongly support renewable energy, and appreciate that
Secretary Salazar will be reopening the government to government
consultation, no amount of mitigation will change the fact that this is
a site of great historical and cultural significance for our Tribe, and
is inappropriate for this project."
Senator John F. Kerry said he was convinced any concerns have been
dealt with during the nine years it has taken to issue a permit for the
"I believe the future of wind power in the Massachusetts and the
United States will be stronger knowing that the process was exhaustive,
and that it was allowed to work and wind its way through the vetting at
all levels with public input," said Kerry in a statement. "This is jobs
and clean energy for Massachusetts."
Supporters have long said an approval would be a giant step forward
for renewable energy efforts in the country, while opponents have said
they would seek to kill the project through legal action. The project,
if it is not held up by lawsuits, could begin construction within the
Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an
organization that opposes Cape Wind, said the group would move quickly
to seek a court injunction to prevent construction from beginning. "We
will win in the courts based on facts, not politics," she said, arguing
that the project would violate historic preservation and environmental
laws, including the Endangered Species Act.
But one legal expert said it was very unlikely that the project's
foes could obtain a federal injunction. At best, said Pat Parenteau,
who teaches at Vermont Law School, they might be able to file a suit
that delays completion for a couple of years.
"It would be very difficult to get an injunction to stop a project
that's been through nine years of review by the state and by the
federal government," he said. "People have been poring over this
project with a fine-tooth comb for so long that my litigator's
instincts tell me it's going to be very hard to find a fatal flaw in
what they've done."
The project has undergone years of environmental review and
political maneuvering, including opposition from the late Senator
Edward M. Kennedy, whose home overlooked Nantucket Sound. While
opponents' main concern is aesthetics -- the turbines would be visible
low on the horizon from the Cape and the islands of Martha's Vineyard
and Nantucket -- the battle was fought by raising other issues,
including possible effects on property values and harm to birds,
fishing, aviation, and historic and cultural sites.
Horseshoe Shoals, the part of Nantucket Sound where the wind farm is
proposed, is widely considered the best place along the East Coast to
build a wind farm. That's in part because the site is in shallow,
sheltered waters close to shore -- the nearest beach is five miles
away. But it is also because it is in federal waters: Political will to
build such a massive wind farm in state waters three miles from shore
does not exist.
Salazar said the project would create 1,000 construction jobs and
produce energy equivalent to that of a medium-sized coal-fired power
plant. He said it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of
Cape Wind Associates has said the wind farm could produce enough
wind power to handle three-quarters of the electric needs of the Cape
and Islands. The price of its electricity is expected to be higher than
power from coal and gas. The company is still in negotiations with
National Grid, the utility, that has agreed to purchase some of the
power the facility produces.
In a statement, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said Salazar's annoucement "launched the American offshore wind industry.
"Going first is never easy and Cape Wind is proud of the role we
played in raising awareness for what will become a major component of
our energy future and in helping the United States develop a regulatory
framework for this new exciting industry."
US Senator Scott Brown criticized Salazar's decision, saying it was "misguided."
"With unemployment hovering near ten percent in Massachusetts, the
Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the
Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact
aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the
area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number
predictions we have heard from proponents of the project," Brown said
in a statement.
But George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of
Massachusetts, hailed the decision, saying it was "a critical step
toward ending our reliance on foreign oil and achieving energy
"Those who continue to resist and litigate are simply on the wrong side of history," he said.