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Vocal opposition builds at Cape Cod -- New entrant to US offshore scene

The secretive behaviour of a Texas based company proposing a second offshore wind plant at Cape Cod is mystifying both business and environmental groups on Cape Cod and Nantucket. A pioneering proposal for a 420 MW wind farm, put forward by Cape Wind Associates last year (Windpower Monthly, December 2001), has already suffered several setbacks from local groups opposed to the location, which they say will interfere with fishing and yachting. Now proposals for another wind facility on the continental shelf of the north-eastern United States, from Sea Energy Generation, may also raise the hackles of residents for similar reasons.

Sea Energy, based in Dallas, has plans for 20 "wave-and-wind-energy platforms" about eight miles south-east of Nantucket, according to the New England division of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Army officials met with Sea Energy's David Spaulding on February 8, says USACE's Tim Dugan. "This was a pre-application meeting, something that's held prior to proponents submitting an application for a permit," he says.

Spaulding is attempting to downplay his firm's interest in the region, implying the company has no particular plans. He is declining to answer questions from the general public or the press as to Sea Energy's makeup or prior experience. Yet Sea Energy filed for a construction permit for a 10-15 MW wave-and-wind-energy generating facility off the coast of California as far back as July 10, 2001. The platform is to be anchored via cables to the ocean floor about 5.1 kilometres north west of Point Conception, Santa Barbara, California, says Fred-Otto Egeler of the Los Angeles district. And the California Army Corp says it is still waiting for details requested in August.

In New England, Dugan says the Corps has no further information on the company, or what its plans might be for the New England coastline. He says no documents have come to the federal body from the company and that all communication has been by phone.

Sea Energy, at the February 8 meeting, discussed the possibility of connecting its cable to land in some states other than Massachusetts, in an attempt to avoid the kind of opposition that Cape Wind Associates encountered in trying to get its 170-turbine project through local, state and federal governing boards. Dugan says USACE has warned Spaulding against such tactics. "The Corps discussed a little about the state requirements and explained that if the project involves multiple states, it could complicate the process," Dugan says. Spaulding has said that preliminary documents on the 20-platform project will be delivered sometime during the summer of 2002.

stiff opposition

While Sea Energy Generation holds its cards close to its chest, Cape Wind Associates has continued to encounter stiff opposition, despite its attempts to be forthcoming. It encountered a major setback in late January when USACE announced that -- as a result of the opposition being registered -- a complete Environmental Impact Statement would be required, a process that can easily consume three or more years. Initially Cape Wind's Jim Gordon said the project could be operable as early as 2003, but that estimate has been pushed steadily back. Also in late January, the town council of Barnstable, one of 15 in the Cape Cod region, voted to oppose the wind farm. "This is like a juried trial, where the evidence is still coming in, but the jury has already made up its mind," commented one councillor, Audrey Loughnane. The vote has little legal impact as no part of the project will be built within town limits, but has huge publicity value.

Cape Wind's application, filed in November, has stirred a small but vocal minority, mostly comprising yachtsmen worried about the effect of an offshore wind plant on their summer recreation and fishermen worried about their catch. Many of the local people who initially favoured the innovative project have changed their minds as a result of the outrage expressed by these groups. The owner of the major marina in Hyannis has even hired a public relations expert to organise the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a "grass roots" campaign to oppose the wind farm.

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