United States

United States

Opponents appeal offshore approval

It was a mob scene in the Boston offices of Cape Wind when company president Jim Gordon held a triumphant press conference last month to announce the release of the long awaited and final Environmental Impact Statement on his proposed offshore wind station in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. Television cameras and print reporters filled the conference room as Gordon said the review, released by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, was "extremely favourable."

But even as Cape Wind executives and supporters celebrated, project opponents warned they would pursue a variety of deterrent strategies. Massachusetts' Senator Edward M Kennedy chastised the Interior Department for releasing the study before, according to the Senator, the document contained all relevant studies and information. "By taking this action, the Interior Department has virtually assured years of continued public conflict and contentious litigation," said Kennedy.

Aides added that Kennedy's objections are not based on concerns that Cape Wind's 130 turbines may be visible in good weather from his family estate in Hyannisport, about eight kilometres across the water from the nearest turbines. Much of the high profile opposition to the wind farm has come from wealthy homeowners with views over the sound. The anti-Cape Wind advocacy group Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound announced the creation of a legal defence fund. The organisation charges that neither the project's impact on historic sites or marine safety issues have been adequately dealt with.

Normally, the Interior Department would issue a "record of decision" regarding Cape Wind 30 days after the study was made public, making it due around the end of this month. Once that is issued, a project can typically begin construction plans. The alliance, however, has called for an extension of 60 days, so the total final comment period could be as long as 90 days. The organisation is likely to also attempt to delay the project's progress by legal means.

Responsibility for the final permitting now lies with the administration of Barack Obama, which has not made public statements about Cape Wind specifically, but has demonstrated a high regard for wind power in general.

Gordon admits that while Cape Wind's permitting may be moving forward, progress comes in the midst of "a tough financing environment," though he is optimistic about putting the financing package together. His next step, he says, will be negotiating long term contracts for the sale of the power. Whether he will be negotiating with New England power distributors or with organisations elsewhere in the country, he has not revealed. Gordon is reluctant to discuss finance specifics, saying the project will cost north of $1 billion. Harvard Business School professor Richard Vietor puts it at around $1.6 billion. Gordon does say he has spent about $40 million on project development over the past seven years or so, most of it his own money.

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