April 20, 2011

US Approves Cape Wind Offshore Wind Farm Construction

The US government on Tuesday approved construction of a controversial wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which could begin this fall, reports AFP.

The proposed 130-turbine wind farm covering 25 miles in the Nantucket Sound -- called the Cape Wind Energy Project -- has been the center of a decade-long dispute over issues such as increased power costs for customers and potential impacts on local fishing grounds. The State Supreme Court rejected those claims, and the Obama administration has backed the project, calling it a way to create jobs and spur offshore wind development in the US.

Federal officials said approving the project is a milestone in developing clean-energy sources that will help lower carbon emissions.

Construction on the 3.6-megawatt wind turbine generators, built by German company Siemens, could begin in the autumn, said Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a statement announcing that the project finally got approval.

"After a thorough review of environmental impacts, we are confident that this offshore commercial wind project -- the first in the nation -- can move forward," Salazar said in the statement.

The project was first put into effect in September 2001, but has undergone "an unprecedented level of environmental and regulatory analysis," according to the plan approved by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), part of the Interior Dept.

The government approved the project only after "a thorough review of environmental impacts," BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich, told AFP.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said adding that "extraordinary steps" have been taken "to fully evaluate Cape Wind's potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound."

Salazar said the Interior Dept. is looking to speed the process of building wind energy projects up and down the Atlantic coast. In February, Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu said development off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia may advance when no environmental impediments are identified.

"Taking 10 years to permit an offshore wind project like Cape Wind is completely unacceptable," Salazar said at a news conference in Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard national park.

Cape Wind Vice President Dennis Duffy said Cape Wind has yet to sell half the power the wind farm is expected to produce. "We are confident the bulk of the power will be sold and discussions are underway," he said.

Cape Wind earlier this month began searching for a partner to help finance the first phase of the $1.7 billion project, according to a source familiar with the project. Cape Wind is seeking to raise $500 million in equity and issue debt for the remaining funds.

The wind farm is expected to supply around three-quarters of the annual energy requirements of Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and cut carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts by more than 733,000 tons a year.


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