Cape Wind clears another hurdle

Rich Eldred

Headaches have been plentiful, good news rare for Cape Wind since backers embarked on their quest to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound seven years ago, but Monday was definitely a good day for Cape Wind president Jim Gordon. 

The federal government, in the form of the Minerals and Management Service, declared in its much-anticipated draft environmental impact statement that the wind farm could produce moderate negative impact in only nine of 118 instances cited. In all other cases the effect would be negligible to minor. 

“We are extremely pleased with the report,” Gordon said at an afternoon press conference in Boston. ”It states that Cape Wind will not produce adverse negative impacts on the environment, tourism, property values or sea navigation.”

The full text of the 718-page draft environmental impact statement is available online at the MMS Web site ( 

“Any rational observer who reads this report will understand this project is not going to produce a negative environmental impact. In fact what it will show is that it will produce significant improvement in our environment,” Gordon added. “I believe we are in our final year of permitting.” 

That remains to be seen. This is only a draft report, as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound emphasized in their response, and there will be a 60-day period for written public comment. The MMS will also hold four days of hearings beginning March 10 (see below for location and dates). 

There is also a parallel state review process by the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board that will rule on the Cape Cod Commission’s denial of permission to Cape Wind to hook up with the electric grid via underwater cable.

But for the time being Gordon was in an ebullient mood. 

“I can tell you it’s an exciting day,” he said. “My reaction was, ‘Thank God it’s finally come out. It has been a long time coming.’” 

The opposition was less excited. 

“Based on a preliminary review, MMS has missed the mark in at least two key areas,” said Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound communications director Kate Dineen. “While MMS has acknowledged negative impacts to birds, fisheries, and threatened and endangered species, the report neglects to adequately address key safety and cost issues that would unfairly burden the people of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard.”

Audra Parker, director of the Alliance’s Strategic Planning, explained that a team of experts was poring over the report.

“There are some red flags in terms of what MMS is saying, where minor to negligible impacts may be significant,” Parker noted. 

She pointed out the acting director of the Federal Aviation Administration wrote a letter to Congressman William Delahunt noting Cape Wind as a potential aviation hazard, but the report lists the potential impact on aviation as negligible to minor.

Impacts during construction (temporary) and during operation (long term) were both assessed in the report. Coastal and marine birds were subject to moderate impact during operation, as was the dispersal of fish eggs and larvae during construction, visual resources on shore and sailboat navigation (including the Figawi Race). Some of the birds affected are threatened or endangered.

A moderate impact means the impact is unavoidable, however, the viability of the resource is not threatened. The only major impact projected the report would be visually on the water, close to the towers.

“It is the right project in the right place at the right time,” said Gordon, citing the project's renewable energy benefits.

“We have an abundance of offshore wind blowing off our coast. We’ll never run out of it. No cartel will ever control it,” he said.

The project could offset one million tons of greenhouse gas. 

“I do feel this is economically viable. When we started this project the price of oil was $20 a barrel and natural gas was going for $3,” Gordon said. “This project could be a shinning example of a path to the future in renewable energy.” 

“What we learn from Cape Wind can help us advance the industry incrementally. We had to go around the Earth before we went to the moon,” he added. 

At this point Cape Wind has spent $30 million on the proposal and will seek outside funding to finance its completion. The total cost would be over $1 billion dollars. 

“I would estimate now we’re probably looking at 2010, 2011 (for construction) and we’ll go online at the earliest in 2011. That’s the earliest we believe we could be putting renewable energy into the grid,” Gordon declared. 

The Alliance believes that offshore wind power is not economically viable. 

“We have seen several offshore projects cancelled last year because there was high electrical cost to the consumer,” Parker recalled. “The going amount for electricity in Southeast Massachusetts is $59 a megawatt hour, Cape Wind will be double that at $122. We’ve got a very expensive project here and that’s borne out by the cancellation of other electric projects. The situation we’re seeing is expensive renewable energy with risks to the environment.” 

That’s one side. 

“The facts have not changed in six years,” Gordon said. “A lot of misinformation and propaganda bandied about and fueled by this opposition group will be invalidated.”

“They have acknowledged the negative impact in some areas,” Parker countered. 

“And they acknowledge this is a very expensive source of power.” 

Hard copies of the environmental impact statement will be available at the Hyannis, Falmouth, and Eldredge (Chatham) public libraries as well as the Boston Public Library and Nantucket Atheneum and Edgartown Public Library. 

“This is a draft report and it will be open to public comment and we’re going to do extensive commentary,” Parker promised. “We’ve assembled a team of experts that are evaluating the report. The public comment period will be key.” 

The MMS hearings on the draft report will begin March 10, at the Mattacheese Middle School in Yarmouth from 6 p.m. till midnight, March 11, at Nantucket High School from 5-10 p.m., March 12, at Martha’s Vineyard High School from 5 to 10 p.m. and March 13, at UMass Boston, from 6 p.m. till midnight. 

“It’s been a long hard road we are extremely pleased by this. We feel a great sense of accomplishment,” Gordon concluded.

The Cape Codder