Wind farm could soon become a reality

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After nine years of planning and controversy, a decision is looming for Cape Wind, the proposed wind farm project on Horseshoe Shoal off Cape Cod, Mass.

"The time has come to bring the reviews and analysis of the Cape Wind project to a conclusion," says U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a recent press release.

A decision on whether Cape Wind can build its wind farm on Horeshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound is expected by the end of April.

"It is clear to me that the consulting parties are not able to bridge their divides and reach agreement on actions to minimize and mitigate the Cape Wind project's effects on historic and cultural resources."

On March 1 Salazar notified the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that Cape Wind and all major parties supporting and opposing the project have not been able to reach a compromise. The council has 45 days to provide an opportunity for consulting parties and the public to offer their views before the council will submit those comments as well as its own to Salazar. A public hearing was slated for March 22 in West Barnstable, Mass., and comments were to be received until March 29.

A decision on whether the Cape Wind project will go forward for construction in the federal waters of Horseshoe Shoal is expected by the end of April, although an exact date has not been announced. However, interested parties could still choose to litigate the decision, whatever the outcome.

The project was first proposed in 2001 by Energy Management Inc., based in Boston with a second office in Cape Cod.

"I think we are all in favor of green energy, but I am not in favor of the location," says Capt. Tom Mleczko of Capt. Tom's Charters (www.capttom.com) in Nantucket, Mass. "I think there is a better-suited area that is not so heavily used. ... I mean, they have the whole ocean here."

Cape Wind (www.capewind.org) calls for 130 turbine towers, each 440 feet tall from blade to the surface of the water located about 13 miles off Nantucket, Mass. The turbines would be spread out in parallel rows and each turbine within the row would be .34 nautical miles apart. The rows themselves would be .54 nautical miles apart. When completed, the wind farm would cover more than 25 square miles, according to Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind spokesman. The company declined to give an estimated cost for the project.

Mleczko offers four vessels for charter, from 18 to 30 feet. He says the location of the wind farm will not affect his business since his charters don't venture into that area. However, Mleczko is concerned the wind farm might limit the use of large portions of the shoal during and after construction.

While small portions of the shoal will be sectioned off for safety purposes, Cape Wind will be installing each turbine individually to avoid disrupting marine traffic, says Rodgers, who could not comment on how large these sections might be.

Mleczko believes the shoal is too shallow and fragile for the wind farm. On the other hand, he says the turbine structures could create new food chains.

"It would be almost like an artificial reef," says Mleczko. "I just wish they were planning to put [the turbines] farther out in the sound."

According to the Cape Wind Web site, the turbines have been placed on Horseshoe Shoal so as to not affect commercial shipping lanes.

"Horseshoe Shoal is shallow - at mean tide the range is from 2 to 50 feet and at 'low low' tide some of the bottom is exposed - making the shoal dangerous for commercial shipping," states the site.

The community organization Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (www.saveoursound.org), which has long opposed the Cape Wind project, has proposed the wind farm be built on another site about three miles south of Tuckernuck Island, but so far Cape Wind has dismissed that as a possibility. Rodgers says it would turn back the clock on the project because an environmental study on that site would take several years. The Cape Wind project was approved by the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board in December 2008 - seven years after it was first proposed.

"We included that location in our alternative site analysis to give the [environmental] agency more information to determine if the applicant site was a reasonable one," says Rodgers. "If that site had initially emerged as a superior option, the permitting agency would have denied the current project site."

But Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, says because the Tuckernuck site was on the initial list of alternatives, the approval process would not have to start from the beginning again.

"There are fewer impacts on the fisheries, fewer safety dangers and there would be less view impact," says Parker. "The wind is stronger in that area and therefore would create a larger amount of power."

Parker says the alternative location would also not affect the tribal historical lands of the federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.

Rodgers says while more wind may be beneficial to the project, the rougher sea conditions in that area would make construction and maintenance of the turbines challenging and possibly dangerous.

"The sea state is much rougher - construction must be done in calm conditions," says Rodgers.

When asked if there were any other compromises the alliance would consider from Cape Wind, Parker says moving the location to Tuckernuck Island is "the compromise."

"Where it's proposed to go now is the worst possible location," says Parker. "And with Cape Wind clinging to the original location, they are not being a good neighbor or respecting tribal lands."

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Cape Cod, and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard, say the project would disturb a sacred ritual that calls for an unobstructed view of the sunrise and that the turbines could be built over ancestral burial grounds that were once on dry land, according to media reports.

There were initial concerns on the part of the Coast Guard on how the wind farm would affect navigational radar, but following two comprehensive studies Cape Wind has agreed to add private aids to navigation lighting and signals, install traffic-management efforts such as marked traffic lanes and recommended vessel routes, and establish a control center as required by the Coast Guard terms and conditions, according to Rodgers. All cables used to connect the towers and send electricity to shore will be buried 6 feet under the seabed so as not to affect vessel traffic, according to Cape Wind.

Capt. Fred Tonkin - who runs fishing charters on Nantucket for bluefish and striped bass on the Herbert T, a Parker 2520 XL Sport Cabin (www.fishnantucket.net) - says he is 100 percent behind the Cape Wind project. Tonkin doesn't think the construction of Cape Wind will significantly affect his charter routes.

"People don't want it because of the aesthetics, but I like the fact that more energy here means less dependency," says Tonkin. "I've supported this from the get-go."

Cape Wind president Jim Gordon says he is confident that Salazar will approve the project.

"I am grateful that [Salazar] is personally engaged in bringing a nine-year regulatory process to a conclusion," says Gordon.

The company has listened to the public and made modifications to the plan through the years, such as cutting down the proposed number of turbines by 40 and changing paint color of the turbines in order to blend them into the horizon, creating less impact on the view, he says. Gordon stresses that Cape Wind would create 400 jobs during the 26-month construction timeline and 50 full-time jobs after construction is completed.

"We are already 20 years behind Europe on this," says Rodgers. "It's kind of silly, really."

See related article:

- Block Island wind farm could have an easier path

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the May 2010 issue.