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Advocates cringe at scattershot approach -- More fuel for offshore fire

Proposals for huge offshore wind farms put forward by a little known company in the US Northeast have set alarm bells ringing among wind power advocates. Latest plans from Winergy LLC, based on Long Island, New York, include five projects near the New Jersey coast. Together, the proposals cover more than 606 square kilometres of ocean near the shoreline with 1019 wind turbines.

The company's approach has succeeded in raising opposition to offshore wind among local folk and US Congressmen alike. Winergy has not raised a single turbine anywhere since it entered the wind business.

A project the company is calling "Asbury Park" is said to consist of 98, 3.5 MW turbines destined for a site 5.5 kilometres off the New Jersey shoreline. The project was immediately dubbed "a cockamamie idea" and a "harebrained scheme" by the local Asbury Park Press. Two US Congressmen, Democrats from New Jersey, are no less outspoken. Robert E Andrews calls the proposal "a colossally bad idea" that will create an "eyesore along the beach," adding that it sounds like an Internet hoax. Frank J Pallone suggests the offshore wind concept should be approached in a more organised fashion.

The two are now planning to introduce a bill into the US Congress to impose a moratorium on all offshore projects in the region until a broad impact study is completed. Both say they have serious concerns about the environmental effects and the effects on tourism of Winergy's proposals.

Belmar, a coastal New Jersey town heavily dependent on tourism, feels caught in the middle, says town mayor Kenneth E Pringle. Many people in his area support wind energy, he says, but Winergy's approach has blind-sided even wind advocates. As a result Pringle supports the proposed moratorium.

KIND OF A SHAME

"I don't know that planting those towers three-and-a-half miles off the beaches will work, but I'm certainly open-minded about wind turbines or other alternative energy devices somewhere off the coast," he states. "But now you're starting to see people mobilise because of Winergy. If they are simply trying to stake out permits and don't have a plan that they're serious about, that's kind of a shame. If the results of their efforts are to create hurdles or barriers for the serious developers, that would be too bad."

Pringle says that New Jersey residents worry most that their ocean view will be degraded to produce electricity that will be sent to Long Island and other New York locations.

Lacks knowledge

In the past, Winergy had proposed a similarly large number of projects for coastal Massachusetts. Clean Power Now, an organisation providing citizen support to wind projects, did not endorse any of the plans. "Our assessment of the company was that the developer lacked the requisite knowledge and expertise in energy project development that we would need to consider them truly viable," says the organisation's Matt Palmer.

Winergy's president, Dennis Quaranta, says that of the five projects proposed so far, "the project I'll be most interested in is the one that makes the most sense and the one that I can get through with the permitting." Quaranta believes he is close to receiving a permit for a project proposed for the Virginia shoreline, and that he has spent $300,000 so far. "These things are not inexpensive," he says.

Winergy competitor Cape Wind -- which is developing a 130 turbine offshore project off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts -- says it has spent more than $15 million in the permitting process for the project, much of it on developing a 4000 page Environmental Impact Statement required by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Quaranta explains the difference in investment levels: "My projects are a lot different." He says that to date all Winergy's development costs have come from his personal funds. "Not a nickel" has come from anyone else, he adds.

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