Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today approved the Cape Wind renewable energy project on federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound, but will require the developer of the $1 billion wind farm to agree to additional binding measures to minimize the potential adverse impacts of construction and operation of the facility.
“After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project at the Horseshoe Shoal location,” Salazar said in an announcement at the State House in Boston. “With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our Nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region.”
The Cape Wind project would be the first wind farm on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, generating enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. The project would create several hundred construction jobs and be one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the nation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually. That is equivalent to removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year.
Jonathan Hiskes at Grist:
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and Ian Bowles, secretary of the Massachusetts executive office of environmental affairs, have long championed Cape Wind and are claiming the administration’s decision as a victory. Bowles called the announcement “the shot heard ’round the world for American clean energy.”
Of course, other countries are already far ahead of the U.S. in offshore wind: farms are churning off the coasts of Denmark, the U.K., and other coastal European nations. In fact, Germany’s first offshore farm was just launched.
And even now, it’s not clear how quickly the U.S. will catch up. Cape Wind faces several more regulatory hurdles and court challenges that could take years to resolve. And other offshore-wind proposals are likely to face serious scrutiny and opposition to
Suzanne Merkelson at The Atlantic:
Salazar included a few modifications to help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental assets of Nantucket Sound. The farm was originally intended to include 170 turbines, but he dropped the number to 130 to help reduce visual impact. He also stipulated that developers need to take additional marine archaeological surveys and other “commonsense measures” to “minimize and mitigate” potential adverse effects of the project.
“This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast which I expect will come online in the years ahead as we build a new energy future for our country,” Salazar said. He acknowledged the project’s opponents, including local Native American tribes, noting that he believes the project will be sensitive to their concerns.
Supporters have touted the project as a source of green jobs and clean, reliable domestic energy that would meet up to 75 percent of the power needs on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. The commitment to Cape Wind also marks the United States’ intent to catch up in this facet of the renewable energy industry, now dominated by Europe and China.
Jared Keller at The Atlantic:
But the underlying political principles of the anti-Cape Wind movement speak to tougher challenges facing Obama’s energy agenda, starting with NIMBY.
The American Wind Energy Association says opposition to wind power arises most commonly when “some people perceive that the development will spoil the view that they are used to,” and Cape Wind is exhibit A. “The right project in the wrong place,” sums up the view of key Cape Wind opponents, most notably, members of the Kennedy family, whose famous Hyannisport compound overlooks Nantucket Sound. The late Senator Edward Kennedy twice nearly killed the project with legislative sleight-of-hand. Eco-activist Robert Kennedy Jr. has railed against the wind farm, rationalizing his logic in a strained op-ed in the New York Times.
The fallout from this project transcends just a few powerful opponents. Waves of litigation surrounding Cape Wind have prompted some wind farm developers to seek plots farther offshore and in deeper waters. The need to address visual-impact complaints adds to the technical complexity and cost of offshore wind power, potentially deterring large-scale investment. As Karen Ferenbacher puts it on the website earth2tech, the litigation surrounding Cape Wind is “representative of how NIMBY-ism and political interests can crush clean power projects.”
While Americans were reminded after Scott Brown’s surprise Senate victory exactly how complex the politics of Massachusetts can be, the long struggle of Cape Wind underscores how opposition to wind power, apart from state-by-state preservation issues, will come down to local preferences and the concerns of citizens, rather than major policy points.
If the future of offshore wind farming looks like the Cape Wind story, efforts to expand the industry through national policymaking seem headed for guerilla warfare at the local level. And obstacles to offshore wind farms at the local level provide fodder for opposition to Obama’s national energy reform package. Wind energy sounds fantastic on the national level, but no number of tax credits, economic incentives, and inspirational speeches touted by President Obama can trump local concerns over the erosion of majestic scenery or a much-loved vacation spot. Local NIMBY-ism, while a marginal issue in the grand scheme of national public policy, lends itself to influence from outside interests. Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones outlined the role of William Koch — president of the Oxbow Group, where he “made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products,” and Cape Cod property-owner — in bankrolling the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the major Cape Wind opposition group. It’s a clinic on how a handful of well-placed local interests can undermine a national wind power initiative
Secretary Salazar’s approval is hardly a total victory for Cape Wind. The project is years behind schedule. In 2002, federal regulators predicted the project could be approved within 18-months, but it’s only now happening eight years later. In green-lighting the project, Secretary Salazar ordered it to be scaled down significantly and will require the developers to take additional steps to mitigate potential impacts of the development. These conditions, combined with the delays, increase the project’s costs, and could discourage some potential investors in offshore wind and other alternative energy projects.
Approval of Cape Wind was long overdue. If the Obama Administration is serious about promoting wind and other forms of alternative energy, it needs to do more to create a favorable regulatory climate for future projects. In particular, it needs to lay out clear standards and guidelines for future projects and prevent last-minute efforts to sabotage the approval process so investors and developers can more accurately gauge the time and costs involved in siting new facilities. The Administration appears to get this. Secretary Salazar acknowledged concerns about the time and expense involved with approving Cape Wind and highlighted administration initiatives to streamline and rationalize future permit approvals. If it follows through, there is no reason why Cape Wind should not be the first of many offshore wind projects on our shores.
Nick Loris at Heritage:
Let’s set aside the $2 billion cost of the project and the federal subsidies Cape Wind receives and focus on the problems that will occur as we attempt to replace fossil fuel-based energy with renewables – both on-shore and off-shore. To replace one offshore natural gas platform we would need 59 Cape Wind projects, which means more than 7,700 turbines covering an area the size of Rhode Island. We would need 24 of these projects to replace one of the 104 nuclear plants we have in the United States.
This certainly isn’t unique to wind and clear doesn’t follow party line dissent. Just last December California Senator Diane Feinstein introduced legislation to block a large scale solar and wind project in the Mojave Desert. The NIMBY crowd is everywhere contesting everything, which makes for an exceptionally long time for energy projects to come online.
If wind or solar can compete absent subsidies, mandates or tax credits, then Americans will benefit from a more robust, competitive energy market. Years of subsidies and tax credits haven’t helped wind and solar projects compete with more reliable sources of energy. Solar power supplies less than one percent of the country’s electricity demand; wind does slightly better. That’s not necessarily a red flag to stop building more, but it is indicative of how far we have to go and how costly (in terms of pricier electricity and competing special interests) and contentious it would be to transform to our government’s vision of a clean energy economy. When you add in the necessary transmission lines to transfer the power from where it is generated to where it is needed, it becomes all that more costly and contentious.
The process could smoothen out as more projects come online but reform that calls for a quicker, efficient review process for all energy projects would be a welcoming step, as would peeling back the subsidies to determine whether these projects can stand on their own two feet.
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:
The project’s approval was especially salient in light of the current drilling catastrophe off the coast of Louisiana, where the Coast Guard today announced that it is planning to light the oil spill on fire in order to protect the sensitive coastline. The spill has sparked concerns over the administration’s plans to expand offshore drilling, which Salazar and President Barack Obama announced last month.
The juxtaposition didn’t seem lost on Salazar. “Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter,” he said.
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
As a frequent visitor to , and devoted admirer of, Cape Cod–the herring were running last weekend (one of Ted Kennedy’s favorite events)–I am thrilled that the nation’s first offshore wind farm will be located in Nantucket Sound. This was opposed by fair-weather environmentalists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (and, sadly, by his uncle) because it would occlude their water views. Tough luck!
I look forward to more wind farms in the neighborhood, perhaps one in Cape Cod Bay–on my favored side of the peninsula. I love the way windmills look. Even more, I love the non-carbonated energy they generate.