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United States

United States

An historical turning of the tide

Steeped in history and tradition, south east New England is being asked to consider something as radically new as a large offshore wind plant off Cape Cod. Opposition to this use of a major domestic energy resource is already being called unpatriotic and short sighted in the light of the events of September 11 and the need for more energy independence from the Middle East

The United States' first -- and the world's largest -- offshore wind farm may begin producing power by late 2004. The project has been proposed for five miles off the coast of Cape Cod, an historic region just south of Boston that was first settled by the English in the 1620s. The developers, Cape Wind Associates, plan a whopping 420 MW power plant for a shallow region called Horseshoe Shoal, located in Nantucket Sound between the ultra-wealthy island of Nantucket and the tourist island of Martha's Vineyard (famous as the vacation spot of Bill Clinton).

The Cape Cod region is home to the world renowned Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It is also a popular weekend getaway for Bostonians and New Yorkers. A variety of sportsmen enjoy the area's recreational opportunities. Yachtsmen sail the waters well into the fall, and north of the proposed site is a beach known among windsurfers as "the best in the east." Indeed, Cape Wind Associates chose the area because of the strong and consistent winds.

Current plans call for 170 wind turbines with a hub height of 80 meters and a height at blade tip of 130 meters. The turbines will be laid out in a grid pattern of one-half mile intervals by one-third mile intervals. Total area covered will be just under 25 square miles. While the company has chosen its specifications, it has yet to choose a supplier. "We're talking to vendors right now," says Cape Wind Associates' Jim Gordon.

The project's up front development and construction costs are expected to be "at least" $600 million, says Gordon. Offsetting that are a few governmental incentives, such as the federal tax credit of about $0.017/kWh. The project has been in planning for more than a year and the company says it has already invested several million dollars in environmental research and siting.

The sky's the limit

The closely watched Cape Cod proposal is widely seen as a possible prototype for future development of Atlantic coastal waters along the north eastern shoreline of the United States, where shoals run for many miles in a kind of "rolling hills" topography created as the last Ice Age receded from the region, about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago. While the continental shelf on the nation's west coast drops off quite quickly into the Pacific, the Atlantic shallows extend out from the land for many miles.

Consequently, the shallow saltwater regions of the Atlantic coast here may hold some prime offshore wind plant sites. Because of the proximity of the two scientific institutions, there exists a comparatively large amount of data about the sea's ecology and topography here and potential investors are watching with interest. The potentially large number of sites available just offshore coupled with proximity to the nation's most densely developed land has many people seeing dollar signs.

Couple those qualities with the typically steady winds of the northern coast, and "the sky's the limit," says Cape Wind vice president Brian Braginton-Smith, a Cape Cod native and ten year advocate of offshore wind plant development. "The ocean is a tremendous potential dynamo for the United States," he says. "This is just the first step in a long path that will ultimately lead to a sustainable future."

A family affair

Cape Wind Associates is a partnership between two separate entities, Energy Management Inc of Boston and the Cape Cod-based Wind Management. Heading up Wind Management is Brian Caffyn, a long time wind industry member who started out developing wind projects in California and most recently has been involved in the installation of several hundred megawatt of Vestas turbines in Italy. The Caffyn family has a strong presence on Cape Cod. Nancy Caffyn, Brian Caffyn's mother, has held several elected offices in the state and is well-known and well-respected among the community. Brian Caffyn's brother, attorney, Tim Caffyn, is also on staff.

Energy Management Inc (EMI) is a Boston-based energy development firm that for the past 27 years has been involved in developing energy conservation and electric generation facilities. EMI says it has put together close to $1 billion worth of generation facilities throughout the north eastern region. Those facilities range from 275 MW modern natural gas fired plants to a 15 MW biomass plant run on wood chips.

Permitting and financing

Cape Wind expected to have filed an Environmental Notification Form with the Massachusetts Environmental Agency by the end of November, kicking off an extensive permitting process that will ultimately involve a wide range of state and local governing boards. The filings contain extensive studies analysing the environmental impacts to the region, as well as proclaiming potential benefits.

Simultaneously, the company expected to have filed similar notifications with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that will be overseeing the majority of the permitting process. In the US, the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over projects occurring in federal waters. "They ultimately have jurisdiction over all the waters that extend out over 200 miles. As a permitting agency they have to remain impartial -- but for all practical purposes it currently appears from the stand point of regulatory issues that there is nothing standing in the way of the project at this point in time," says Braginton-Smith.

Company officials hope the new project will be operational by 2004, but concede that the permitting process make require a bit of extra time. "It's clear that European nations have made offshore wind parks a key component of their energy policies. We intend to make this a model for America's future environmental and energy policy," says Gordon.

Cape Wind expects to be able to finance the $600 million-plus facility entirely through private investment. The state of Massachusetts provides a small amount of up front development money, but the company has not applied for that aid, or even begun gathering the investment capital. "Right now it's premature for us to talk to the banks because we're still developing the project. Then we will be sitting down, probably within the next six months, to start talking to lenders," Gordon says.

Patriotic duty

The project appears to have wide support in governmental circles. In early November, Albert H Benson, manager of the US Department of Energy's north eastern region Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy project attended a meeting of local governmental officials who opposed the offshore plant. Benson told them that supporting wind power and other renewable energy projects is a patriotic duty because of what happened on September 11 -- an idea which many people have echoed, both on Cape Cod and across the nation. Because of the need to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, opposition to the project, he said, would be short sighted, quixotic and selfish.

Benson, who worked for Mobil oil for more than 20 years before joining the federal government, said he is totally committed to shifting America's energy needs to renewable sources like wind, and warned listeners that continued dependence on Middle Eastern oil would bring continued mayhem to America's doorstep.

Nevertheless, a few Cape Codders remain wedded to tradition. The president and vice-president of the Barnstable town council have sponsored a non-binding resolution condemning the project: "Beachgoers, visitors to Cape Cod, boaters and shoreline residents would all be impacted in a substantially negative way should the towers be erected in Nantucket Sound. These proposed towers will be highly visible, impacting the incredible natural beauty of Nantucket Sounds which very much represents the essence of Cape Cod. In addition, recreational fishing, tourism, and associated local business activity would be in jeopardy if 200 towers were erected in Nantucket Sound."

PILGRIMS AND PURITANS

Cape Cod is a peninsula of land that extends 90 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Settled during the 1600s by the rigid Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England and Europe during the age of religious upheaval, the narrow spit of land is governed by 15 separate towns that have steadfastly refused, over the centuries, to co-ordinate their governments into a unified body. While most of the United States is known for its wholehearted enthusiasm of "new" ideas and products, south eastern New England remains steeped in its history and is reluctant to consider any new changes to the area.

Nevertheless, many Cape people are enthusiastic about the prospect of emission free electricity. While the town of Barnstable (summer home of the Kennedy dynasty) has reacted negatively to the concept, neighbouring towns have embraced it. A breakfast meeting of Yarmouth businessmen promised Cape Wind their enthusiastic support, claiming that the wind farm would improve fishing, improve tourism and add a number of jobs to the locally depressed work force.

The rivalry of the two towns is well known, stretching back through the centuries and manifesting itself in recent decades in football competition. Nevertheless, Cape Wind hopes to win the enthusiasm of Barnstable villagers as well. In a November meeting of local officials to discuss the resolution, Benson and a lengthy list of project proponents from around the state of Massachusetts asked councillors to be patient and learn the details of the proposal before voting on such a resolution. While local officials do not have jurisdiction in federal waters, Cape Wind Associates have tried to allay the officials' fears by countering that fishing might well be improved and that tourism might increase because of public interest in such a state-of-the-art project.

The Department of Energy's Benson said that Cape Cod's support of the project was essential for "a number of reasons, from an environmental perspective, from a balance of payments perspective. From a health perspective. These are things you can't see -- but they're real. My background has given me the experience to say that we need to be able to transition from oil. We can't keep putting it off. Europe is ahead of us in a number of respects."

Shaken up by September 11

In the recent past, north-easterners -- long wedded to relying on imported oil and, as a culture, not open to change -- have been generally uninterested in alternative energy production. There are signs, though, that the events of September 11 have shaken up even these tradition bound people. Voters may, at long last, be hearing the warnings about oil, climate change and global warming. A variety of popular publications have been extolling the virtues of wind energy in recent weeks -- and a second offshore wind farm is in the very preliminary planning stages on the eastern tip of New York State's Long Island, located just to the east of New York City.

The genesis of the Long Island project is lengthy and convoluted. Its roots, however, go all the way back to opposition to nuclear power and opposition to nuclear research at the scientific research facility Cold Spring Harbor. Because of agreements made during negotiations between various interest groups, a non-profit advocacy organisation known as STAR (Standing for Truth About Radiation) has forged an alliance with New York State's electricity generating governance board and has begun to investigate the offshore wind possibilities for the region. The alliance expects to release a report and to hold public discussions on possible offshore wind sites sometime within the next few weeks.

A growing role

Offshore wind is very much an unknown entity in the United States. Little research has been put into finding possible sites off the coastline in the northeast. However, Bruce Bailey, head of the Albany-based AWS Scientific, consultants in renewable energy projects, has been involved in siting discussions on both the Cape Cod and the Long Island projects.

Bailey is certain that offshore wind will play a growing role in the energy mix for the East Coast, despite its cultural conservatism. "The wind industry has had a difficult time getting established because the utility industry has been restructuring over the last five years on a state-by-state basis rather than on a national basis. This makes it time consuming and expensive for small entrepreneurs to get in the game," he says. "But the market for renewable energy has finally come into its own over the past year."

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