By BECKY W. EVANS (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BOSTON– Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar gave approval today for construction of the first offshore wind farm to be built on the country’s outer continental shelf.
Salazar said the decision in favor of the Nantucket Sound project is “an important announcement for the nation,” because it paves the way for clean energy projects “up and down the Atlantic coast.”
“With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future,” he said during a press conference in an overcrowded press room at the Massachusetts State House.
Salazar said the Cape Wind project will create 1,000 construction jobs and produce enough “clean power” to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. He said the wind farm will produce the same amount of power as a medium-sized, coal-fired power plant and will offset 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the equivalent of removing 175,000 cars from the road each year.
The approval of Cape Wind caps a 9-year permitting process for developer Jim Gordon’s controversial project, which has met fierce opposition from some residents of Cape Cod and the Islands, including the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Hyannisport and most recently, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod. The tribes contend the wind farm will disrupt sun greeting ceremonies and could damage ancestral artifacts buried on the seafloor.
“The need to preserve the environmental resources and rich cultural heritage of Nantucket Sound must be weighed in the balance with the importance of developing new renewable energy sources and strengthening our nation’s energy security while battling climate change and creating jobs,” Salazar said.
“After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analysis of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project,” he said.
The approval requires the developer to take some mitigation measures designed to reduce the project’s visual impacts and to preserve Nantucket Sound’s historic and cultural features, he said.
The agency accepted Cape Wind’s proposal to reduce the number of turbines from 170 to 130 and to reconfigure the siting of the turbines in order to reduce the visual impacts from Nantucket Island and the Kennedy Compound National Historic Landmark. Prior to construction, additional seabed surveys will be required to identify any submerged archaeological resources on the bottom of Nantucket Sound. The full mitigation requirements are outlined in the agency’s Record of Decision.
“Cape Wind is good for our environment and good for our energy needs,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said following the announcement. “Cape Wind is also good for Massachusetts.”
Patrick said moving forward with Cape Wind will allow the country to catch up with Europe’s advances in offshore wind development.
“If we get clean energy right the whole world will be our customer,” he said.
In the hallway outside the press room, reporters swarmed around Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, one of the project’s main opponents.
“This is a political decision and a slap in the face to Native Americans, the Cape and Islands community, and ratepayers who have not been told how the project will affect their electricity bills,” she said.
The project poses multiple threats to the environment, public safety, the economy and private religious rights, Parker said.
She said the final decision on the wind farm is “far from over,” since there are 10 parties who have filed lawsuits against Cape Wind. The project’s fate is now in the hands of the court, where it will be decided “on facts, not politics,” she said. “Ultimately Nantucket Sound needs to be off limits to Cape Wind.”