"America's First Offshore Wind Farm" – the tag line of the proposed Cape Wind Project – has been more wishful thinking than fact for eight years. That may be changing.
This week, a majority of the members of the Massachusetts Legislature – 107 out of 200 – signed a letter urging U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to approve the wind farm "as soon as possible."
What's significant about this letter is not the content per se; it's that far more legislators have signed it since it was first delivered just a month ago – almost 30 more since April 6.
It's just the latest evidence that the tides are quickly turning on the 130-turbine wind farm proposal for Nantucket Sound, a project that has faced relentless "Not In My Back Yard," or NIMBY, opposition. Here are some other signs of progress:
- On January 16, 2009, the Minerals Management Service released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project, concluding that the project poses no significant environmental threat.
- On March 12, 2009, the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board voted unanimously to issue Cape Wind a tentative "super permit," knocking off nine state and local approvals it needs to build the turbines. A final approval, which is likely, is expected soon.
- On April 10, 2009, the 17-member board of the highly respected Cape Cod environmental organization, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, came out unanimously in favor of Cape Wind for the first time.
- On April 22, 2009, Earth Day, President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of the Interior has finalized a long-awaited framework for renewable energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that could clear the regulatory thicket on offshore wind development.
- On May 4, 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Vice President Joe Biden visited the University of Delaware where they both underscored the importance of developing America's offshore wind potential on the OCS.
Interior Secretary Salazar, for his part, has been heavily touting the nation's untapped offshore wind resource during the last few months. He frequently quotes a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which found more than 1,000 gigawatts of wind potential off the Atlantic coast. The entire electricity-generation capacity of the U.S. is just over that number.
None of this new-found support means that Cape Wind is a done deal. A well-heeled and expert cadre of NIMBY activists, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy and The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, remains hell-bent on stopping what it sees as a coming eyesore by any means necessary. To say they are impassioned territorial protectionists is no stretch.
As one nearby resident bluntly puts it in this May 6 letter-to-the-editor:
The visual image of Cape Wind's 130, 440-foot proposed wind turbines over 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound offends me. And my right to Nantucket Sound aesthetic value is assured under the National Environmental Policy Act.
There should be no room for such localized NIMBYism in well-conceived renewable energy development. Keep in mind, the Cape Wind plan has statewide polling support of 86 percent.
The U.S. Interior's Minerals Management Service is preparing to make its final decision on Cape Wind. The project must also secure approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If the approvals roll in, construction may start as early as 2010, though you can bet lawsuits will spring up like mushrooms to delay the mandate.
What's clear is that America's first offshore wind farm will actually get built under Obama's watch. Whether it will be off Nantucket Sound, as the Cape Wind brand has long claimed and the Massachusetts government now wants, is still unknown.