Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's final approval of Massachusetts' Cape Wind Project was a shot heard around the world, theoretically ending a very bitter nine-year fight. The towers could be up by 2012. But not surprisingly, the tenacious opposition that has forced Cape Wind to spend a fortune before it erects a single turbine doesn't see it that way, and promises to fight on.
A coalition of groups with green-sounding names (the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Three Bays Preservation, Oceans Public Trust Initiative, Earth Land Institute) are joining in the suit. "We will not stand by and allow our treasured public lands to be marred forever by a corporate giveaway to private industrial energy developers," said Audra Parker, the longtime antagonist who heads the Nantucket Sound group. She said in an op-ed for USA Today, "This fight is far from over."
The Cape Cod Times, never a fan of the project, calls it "the wrong project in the wrong place." The Times did, however, post excerpts from Salazar's news conference:
In an interview, Parker said Salazar had made "a political decision" that is far from the final word. She is holding out hope that federal aviation officials will deny Cape Wind, or that one of numerous appeals of state and local permits, now in the state Supreme Court, will prevail. "This will be settled in the courts," she said. There appears to be no scenario in which the opposition will call it a day. The still-powerful Kennedys don't like Cape Wind, either, and Ted Kennedy fought it to the end. Robert Kennedy, Jr. called Cape Wind "a boondoggle of the worst kind." Wow, sounds bad.
But all is not what it appears here. Despite the high-minded rhetoric and concern for the public interest, the opposition, which has reportedly spent $2 to $3 million annually fighting the project, is mainly interested in preserving the view from the Cape. Although the 130 wind turbines will look like toothpicks from the nearest shore (more than five miles away), so-called "viewshed" objections have fueled the fight from the start.
Salazar's approval came with some conditions, including reducing the number of towers from 170 to 130, turning off their lights during the day (and dimming them at night), and painting them off white so they'll blend into the landscape better.
According to Tom Vinson, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, "This sends a really important signal to the wind industry that the federal government is serious about deploying offshore wind. Now we're open for business."
This is the first federally approved offshore wind project. There are a dozen others waiting in the wings, with an estimated capacity of 2,500 megawatts (which is approximately equal to two mid-sized nuclear plants or four or five coal plants).
The Department of Energy said the U.S. has the capacity to generate significantly more than 20 percent of its energy from wind. That would require 300 gigawatts of power, and we currently have wind resources of about a tenth that. Until now, most observers have been waiting to see what would happen with Cape Wind.
Vinson said the opposition faces an uphill battle and, indeed, one such outstanding suit challenging the project's Final Environmental Impact Report was dismissed Thursday in Hyannis, the Kennedys' backyard. The federal decision set off the usual political wrangle, and it has become a contentious issue in Massachusetts' upcoming governor's race: incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick is a supporter, but many of his opponents, such as State Treasurer Tim Cahill, are not.
According to Cape Wind's Mark Rodgers, "With opponents now saying they will be filing lawsuits to deprive the region of the safe, secure and clean energy and jobs Cape Wind will bring, it is important to note this judge's decision yesterday in deciding against the opponents."
The debate on offshore wind is virtually over in the rest of the world. Vinson says there are 1,481 megawatts of it globally, but none in the U.S.
The tide may be moving in one direction, but as Parker says, the Cape Wind fight isn't over--her group appealed for further funding from well-heeled supporters even as the ink was drying on Salazar's decision.
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