Cape Wind Breaks Ground

In a decade-long effort to build the nation’s first wind farm off the Massachusetts coast, officials of Cape Wind broke ground on August 23rd with the signing of a purchase agreement to construct the $2.5 billion, 130-turbine project’s maintenance hub. Jim Gordon, President of Cape Wind, said he expects to close on financing by the second quarter of next year, start construction in 2014 and begin operations in 2015. The ground-breaking comes one week after Cape Wind once again received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Determination of No Hazard approval.

“Cape Wind is once again pleased to have received FAA approval,” said Mark Rogers, a spokesperson for Cape Wind. “This is the fourth determination of no hazard during the 10-year review of Cape Wind, which began in the [George W.] Bush administration.”

The FAA Determination of No Hazard stated: “The FAA concludes that the project, if constructed as proposed, poses no hazard to air navigation.” The agency, which examines structures to determine if they are so high that they would obstruct pilots or whether they could interfere with radar needed to locate aircraft, found that Cape Wind will not obstruct pilots because the turbines are below a 500-foot threshold.

“The decision is consistent with other FAA decisions; overall, this project will not be a threat to birds and planes,” said Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which has supported Cape Wind.

Though Cape Wind is now fully permitted, if construction does not start within 18 months, Cape Wind will have to go before the FAA again. Further, the project is currently facing an appeal by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has long argued that Cape Wind will dramatically alter Nantucket Sound’s tourist-attracting landscape. The group suggests that deep water wind development and energy efficiency alternatives be implemented instead to “provide power and save the environment at half the cost of Cape Wind.”

“The FAA ruling shows a complete and utter disregard for public safety and flies in the face of last year’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. to revoke Cape Wind’s aviation safety permit,” said Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “Cape Wind would place 130 massive turbines, each over 40 stories tall, in the heart of Nantucket Sound. It’s abundantly clear to virtually everyone outside of the FAA that it poses serious safety risks to the flying public.”

In contrast, organizations such as Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation, American Lung Association, Environment Massachusetts and others have expressed support for the project, stating that it will create jobs, produce clean domestic energy, improve public health and displace the consumption of 113 million gallons of oil annually. Area residents seem to favor Cape Wind as well. In 2010, the Boston Globe reported that 69% of Massachusetts residents support Cape Wind, while only 20% oppose it. In December 2009, the University of Delaware published the results of a public opinion survey of residents on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The survey found that Cape Wind is supported by 57% of the residents of the Cape and islands and support outnumbers opposition in that region by a margin of 16%.

“Offshore wind power has tremendous potential to scale up on the Atlantic coast and become a major source of zero-carbon renewable energy,” Theo Spencer, a senior advocate at the NRDC Climate Center in New York, wrote on the organization’s blog. “The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that the Atlantic coast could host offshore wind projects totaling 212 GW in shallow waters with high wind speeds. According to NREL, if only a quarter of these potential offshore wind projects moved forward, the Atlantic States would generate $200 billion in new economic activity and create tens of thousands of jobs. But the United States has no offshore wind projects up and running and has only approved one: Cape Wind, which would be sited in federal waters off Massachusetts. Cape Wind would provide enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet 75% of Cape Cod’s electricity demand.”