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It’s not easy to get a wind turbine approved in the Northeast that’s proposed for a ridgeline or another vista. But perhaps the biggest wind power battle in the region has been over a stretch of open ocean, near Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The controversial Cape Wind project just received all of its state permits and is awaiting federal approval. As part of a collaboration with Northeast stations WCAI’s Sean Corcoran reports the Cape’s fight over what could be the country’s first off-shore wind farm, is framing the debate in other places.
CAPE COD, Mass. – Dowses Beach looks out onto Nantucket Sound, a stretch of open water between the Cape and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Glenn Wattley points out over the waves to where the wind farm would go, less than six miles from shore. He said with blades reaching a height of 440 feet, each turbine would be taller than the Statue of Liberty.
"Not only would we be able to see them, we'd be able to see pretty much the entire 130 of them,” said Wattley, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind. “And it's not just during the daylight hours. There are lights on these turbines for aircraft, so at night this place would look like a runway, like Logan Airport, and we would have a horizon that's traditionally just dark lit by stars being lit by lights on these turbines."
According to Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers, there have been non-stop contentious meetings since the project was first proposed eight years ago. Rodgers said people in the industry have been watching carefully.
"Cape Wind has been the iconic kind of bell weather project,” said Rodgers, “and I think its approval and passage will be a powerful signal to others interested in developing offshore wind power in the United States.”
But some people on the Cape are worried about it moving forward.
The local Chamber of Commerce said the wind farm could hurt tourism; mariners are concerned the turbines would affect navigation; fishermen say they wouldn’t be able to cast their nets in the project's footprint, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, who would see the turbines out the windows of his Hyannisport home, wants it built, but someplace else.
Maggie Geist is the executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Cape's oldest environmental organization. The group recently came out in support of Cape Wind after concluding it wouldn't cause any significant ecological harm. But it wasn't an easy decision.
"You have to be willing to stand up and make the hard choice,” said Geist. "And the hard choice is you might have to look at something you might not want to look at for a while. But ultimately you have to think about what is the world you want to leave for the children of all creatures?"
Geist said the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. The Conservation Law Foundation also supports Cape Wind, but staff attorney Shanna Cleveland said all the controversy surrounding the project has had a chilling effect.
"Other wind developers who have watched this process as its unfolded and seen the difficulties that Cape Wind has encountered have really thought twice about trying to enter the wind market in Massachusetts," said Cleveland.
Although Cape Wind may have hampered the wind market locally, Walt Musial of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado said it’s provided a valuable lesson for the rest of the industry.
“Some of the interest that we are currently seeing for deeper water technologies – which also implies turbines that are farther from shore – has been driven by the Cape Wind project, which is only five to six miles from shore," said Musial.
Rhode Island and Maine are two coastal states pursuing ambitious offshore wind agendas. Maine is seeking federal funding for a national offshore wind research center. And anti-Cape Wind activist Glen Wattley said the fight on the Cape helped influence Rhode Island’s decision to locate its wind farm 15 to 20 miles from shore.
“The governor of Rhode Island took the bull by the horns and put forth his own process to make sure there wasn’t conflict, and they have a deepwater project that is way out beyond the coast just to be considerate of all the stakeholders,” Wattley said.
The federal government is expected to rule on Cape Wind before the summer is over, but the Obama administration could be in a tough spot. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick favors the project, and Patrick is a longtime friend and supporter of President Obama. But to approve Cape Wind, the President would have to go against the wishes of Democratic Party patriarch, Ted Kennedy. And it’s anyone’s guess as to how those politics will play out.