Battle Over Cape Cod Wind Farm Blows Into Congress

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2006 (ENS) Advocates of a plan to build a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod are scrambling to defeat an amendment to a U.S. Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would effectively kill the first offshore wind energy project in the United States.

The provision gives the Massachusetts governor the right to veto the wind farm. The current incumbent Mitt Romney, a Republican, is a vocal opponent of the Cape Wind project.

"It is unfair to give veto power to a man who has stated irrevocably that he will kill this plan because he doesn't like the way it looks," said Liz Argo, director of Clean Power Now, a 5,500 local organization in favor of the project.

Speaking today at a press conference in Washington, DC, Argo and other supporters of the Cape Wind project announced they have sent a letter from 55 labor, trade, industry and environmental organizations to every member of the House and Senate calling on them to remove the language from the Coast Guard bill.

turbines

A simulation of the Cape Wind project from Cotuit, six miles away from the wind farm. This image takes in only a portion of the planned facility. (Image courtesy Cape Wind)
The rider, added to the legislation earlier this month by a conference committee without the approval of either the House or the Senate, is the latest twist in a five year battle over the proposal to build a 130 turbine wind farm some six miles off the coast of Massachusetts.

The 250 foot high turbines would be spread out across 28 square miles of Nantucket Sound in Horseshoe Shoal and would produce up to 420 megawatts of clean, renewable energy.

The site in Horseshoe Shoal has "some of the best wind resources on the East Coast," said Cape Wind President Jim Gordon said, adding that the company reviewed some 17 options before settling on the location for the nation's first offshore wind farm.

Cape Wind has spent about $23 million on the project so far and hopes to meet all the regulatory requirements within 18 months, according to Gordon. The wind farm is expected to take about two years to construct once all permits are approved.

"All we have ever asked for is that the 17 federal and state agencies be allowed to finish their work without political interference and render their judgement," Gordon said.

Proponents of the project note a University of Massachusetts' poll found state residents support the plan by a margin of six to one.

Romney

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has expressed his opposition to the Cape Wind project. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"The opponents have lost in the court of public opinion so now they have gone behind closed doors," said Anna Aurilio, interim director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "This is a promising clean energy project that that should not be killed by a shady backroom deal."

The broad support of environmental organizations, labor groups and health advocates for the project came after careful review its environmental and economic impacts, Gordon said.

"It took us years to get this support," Gordon told reporters. "This was not a knee-jerk reaction."

Kennedy

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy opposes the Cape Wind project. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
But the plan has sparked passionate opposition from some residents of Cape Cod who criticize the environmental impact of the project and adamantly oppose the construction of a wind farm in what many deem one of the nation's most beautiful bodies of water.

The project, opponents say, is too big, too close to the shore and will irrevocably damage the shoals, endanger wildlife and harm the region's economy and quality of life.

Notable opposition has come from Romeny and from Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, as well as renowned environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The provision to effectively kill the Cape Wind plan was added to the Coast Guard authorization conference report by two Alaska Republicans Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young.

The two lawmakers chair the Senate and House committees with oversight of the Coast Guard bills, but Senator Kennedy, whose family owns property at Hyannis Port on Nantucket Sound, is widely believed to be the driving force behind the rider.

John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, told reporters Cape residents should be worried about need for clean energy and the potential impact of global warming on the Cape Islands, "not the view from the Hyannis mansion."

Greenpeace is planning a targeted ad campaign to generate support for the project, and other environmental groups, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council, also are lobbying lawmakers to strip the language from the bill.

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Map of Nantucket Sound showing the proposed location for the Cape Wind facility in relation to existing services. (Map courtesy Cape Wind)
The House and the Senate must still approve the final conference report and Cape Wind supporters believe several senators will lead a charge to get the language stripped from the bill.

Two prominent players in the debate New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici have already spoken out against the attempt to kill the renewable energy project. Domenici, a Republican, is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Bingaman is the ranking Democrat on that committee.

"If a special interest provision to veto a single project by earmark in a conference report succeeded," Bingaman said in a statement, "it would make a mockery not only of all the statements in Congress about the need to strengthen America's domestic energy supply, but also our statements advocating lobbying reform in Washington."

Although the language in the amendment specifically targets the Cape Wind project, there is concern that its passage would have a negative ripple effect on other attempts to harness wind energy off the nation's coast.

The provision would have "a very strong chilling effect in the offshore wind industry for probably a decade, if not a generation," said Theodore Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers.

Roosevelt, whose firm has been retained as a financial advisor to the Cape Wind project, said the investment community would be concerned about similar interventions by lawmakers to derail future projects.

"We can't evaluate unpredictable random political risk," Roosevelt said.