United States

United States

Support builds alongside hurdles -- Cape Wind offshore

The controversial Cape Wind offshore wind power project -- proposed for waters off the coast of Massachusetts in the US Northeast -- continues to be a lightning rod for proponents and detractors alike. Greenpeace has taken up the fight on behalf of the proposed 454 MW power station, but legislation recently passed by the US House of Representatives in response to Hurricane Katrina contained wording deliberately designed to slow down an already lengthy approvals process.

"Opponents of the project slipped some language into a House bill that would add an additional layer of redundant review and approval," says Jim Gordon of Cape Wind Associates, the project's developer. "The commandant has important homeland security obligations and having to get his office involved in offshore wind projects could take away from his other responsibilities and duties."

The language would require a written opinion from the US Coast Guard on whether offshore wind farms interfere with navigation. The $800 million wind project already has a positive navigation assessment at the Coast Guard's local level, but the new legislation would require a similar assessment from the Coast Guard commandant in Washington DC.

Meantime, Greenpeace has waded into the controversy in support of the project, which is strongly opposed by several owners of substantial vacation properties in the area. Among the opponents is Senator Edward Kennedy. "Our company is proud that Greenpeace is supporting Cape Wind," says Gordon. "They are one of the pre-eminent environmental organisations in the world. They've had hands-on experience with wind in Europe and they recognise that Cape Wind is an important project in the emerging US offshore wind industry."

Offshore potential

Gordon points to a study, A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States, released in September by the US Department of Energy, General Electric and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. It identifies more than 900,000 MW of wind potential off US shores -- an amount roughly equivalent to the total currently installed US electrical capacity. The report further identifies winds off the New England coast as among the strongest anywhere in the US.

"The current energy situation in the US and New England is precarious," says Gordon. "We've seen energy costs skyrocket and there are concerns about supply in New England this winter. Citizens across the region are recognising that offshore wind offers a solution to this looming energy crisis."

On track

Despite the ongoing opposition to his project, Gordon says Cape Wind is on track. "Overall, the project is making very good progress," he says. "We've received approval for the transmission line. We're working toward finishing the final environmental impact statement, a joint federal and state review, and we hope it's completed in the next several months. The project has already been under review for years."

He also remains convinced that the location, five miles off the Massachusetts coast, is ideal. "It's absolutely the right place," he says. "It's the optimum site. It has shallow depths and low wave heights and reasonable proximity to transmission grids. And it will peacefully coexist with other uses of Nantucket Sound."

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