The Cape Wind project, the nation's first offshore wind farm, is go for launch. After nine years of controversy and heated negotiations, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that Nantucket Sound, about five miles off the coast of Massachusetts's Cape Cod, will host a 130-turbine wind farm covering 24 square miles that will begin generating electricity as early as 2012. Salazar made the announcement from the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston and was joined by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a big supporter of the project.
Salazar included a few modifications to help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental assets of Nantucket Sound. The farm was originally intended to include 170 turbines, but he dropped the number to 130 to help reduce visual impact. He also stipulated that developers need to take additional marine archaeological surveys and other "commonsense measures" to "minimize and mitigate" potential adverse effects of the project.
"This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast which I expect will come online in the years ahead as we build a new energy future for our country," Salazar said. He acknowledged the project's opponents, including local Native American tribes, noting that he believes the project will be sensitive to their concerns.
Supporters have touted the project as a source of green jobs and clean, reliable domestic energy that would meet up to 75 percent of the power needs on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. The commitment to Cape Wind also marks the United States' intent to catch up in this facet of the renewable energy industry, now dominated by Europe and China.
As Jared Keller explained last week, Cape Wind has survived criticisms surrounding costs and potential negative environmental impacts. The real issue can be summed up in five letters -- NIMBY: Not in My Backyard. Cape Wind opponents included the late Senator Edward Kennedy, whose family's Hyannisport compound overlooks Nantucket Sound, and the local Wampanoag Native American tribe, who say the wind farm will desecrate burial grounds and obstruct sunrise views needed for religious ceremonies. As Keller writes, local opinion can supersede national attitudes: "Wind energy sounds fantastic on the national level, but no number of tax credits, economic incentives, and inspirational speeches touted by President Obama can trump local concerns over the erosion of majestic scenery or a much-loved vacation spot."
Today's announcement signals which side of the debate the Obama administration finds most important, with an aggressive push on renewable energy trumping all else.
The controversy, however, may not be over. Opponent groups have said they are planning to sue to reverse the decision, which Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown denounced in a statement:
With unemployment hovering near ten percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number predictions we have heard from proponents of the project.
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