Apr. 21, 2006 – A coalition of groups supporting a plan for the nationâ€™s largest alternative energy project are lashing out against federal lawmakers for "back-door deal-making" that could kill a proposed wind-farm project in the waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Fifty-five organizations â€“ representing conservation, labor, industry and investment groups â€“ sent letters Thursday to federal lawmakers urging them to vote against an amendment to the Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would effectively give Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney veto power over the offshore wind farm, which would operate in federal waters in Nantucket Sound.
"At a time when energy costs are rising, our government should be working to remove impediments to developing new supply," Michael Kearns, National Ocean Industries Association spokesperson, said in a statement. "This provision would do exactly the opposite."
The amendment, inserted by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) as the innocuously titled "Opinions Regarding Whether Certain Facilities Create Obstructions to Navigation," would prohibit the Coast Guard from approving the wind-farm project if a "governor of an adjacent coastal State makes a written determination" opposing the proposed site.
Although Romney has publicly opposed the wind farm, his spokesperson, Corbie Kiernan, would not tell The NewStandard if the governor would use the veto power under the amendment. Kiernan said Romneyâ€™s position is that Nantucket is "a critical location for the state, and placing wind turbines there would be detrimental." The governor, a potential Republican nominee for the 2008 presidential race, opposes the project only out of concern that it would be visually unattractive, according to Kiernan.
Romney's spokesperson would not tell TNS if the governor would use the veto power.
Alan Nogee, Clean Energy program director with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy association that supports the wind farm, said the new amendment sets a precedent for congressional and state interference with renewable-energy projects.
"This basically signals opponents of any project to go to Congress and try to get vetoes," said Nogee, adding that he believes no such veto power has ever been given to a governor over other controversial projects like nuclear plants or liquefied natural-gas facilities.
Unlikely allies have rallied on either side of the wind-farm issue. Supporters include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Greenpeace, US Public Interest Research Group, and investment giant Lehman Brothers. These and other groups say the project would move the country forward with renewable-energy programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, stall global warming, decrease US dependence on foreign oil, and create jobs and economic growth.
Under the proposal, a cluster of130 wind turbines, each 426 feet tall, would be located about six miles off shore. The farm would be able to meet up to 75 percent of the electricity needs on Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Marthaâ€™s Vineyard, according to the developers, New England-based Energy Management.
Concern over the project has come from wildlife groups, who want the developers to conduct more thorough research on any potential threat the turbines might pose to birds.
But concern over the project has come from wildlife groups, who want the developers to conduct more thorough research on any potential threat the turbines might pose to birds. Robbie Fearn, director of the Humane Societyâ€™s Cape Wildlife Center, said that while the developers have conducted studies of varying durations in recent years, his organization, along with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, has requested studies for 1,095 consecutive days to ensure the turbines would be safe for seabirds, migrating ducks and other wildlife.
The Army Corps of Engineers published a draft Environmental Impact Statement following a 34-month-long study, and determined the project was designed to "avoid or minimize impacts" on habitat, birds, and protected marine species." But come critics do not believe enough precautions have been taken.
"We have always taken a stance that we were not opposed to the concept of this project," Fearn told TNS. "But we had significant concerns about the placement of [it] and wanted to be very cautious in that itâ€™s likely to be a sort of ground-breaking project."
The Massachusetts Audubon Society also recently stated that they will endorse the wind farm if the developers "accept comprehensive and rigorous monitoring and mitigation conditions that will reduce the risk to birds and other wildlife" and fill remaining gaps in their studies.
But the most unyielding â€“ and powerful -- opposition to the wind farm is coming from a small but wealthy group of New Englanders who view the turbines as an unwelcome eyesore on the landscape surrounding their estates and summer homes. The anti-wind-farm group Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has raised millions of dollars in donations to finance its campaign to stop the project.
According to the Allianceâ€™s fundraising manual, posted on the pro-wind-farm blog "Windfacts," the organization aims to overcome the wind-farm proposal through "political and legal efforts" and lobbying for "federal legislation that establishes a sensible national framework for offshore development."
This is not the first political attack on the Cape Wind project. Last December, Congressmember Don Young (R-Alaska) unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment to the House version of the bill that would have required a mile-and-a-half buffer zone between the turbines and shipping and ferry routes.
And in October 2004, Virginia Senator John Warner of Virginia (R) introduced an amendment to a defense spending bill that would have authorized a moratorium on all offshore wind projects in federally controlled waters. .
Seth Kaplan, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, another supporter of the wind farm, said that since wealthy people "explicitly motivated by aesthetic concerns" are controlling the debate, rational discussion of this issue is difficult.
"We wish that we could objectively stand on the side and comment on the environmental review process and make sure that Cape Wind was thorough and completely reviewed," Kaplan told TNS. "But that would be irresponsible for us to just do that, because thereâ€™s people trying to stop it for reasons that have nothing to do with [the environmental review] process."
Federal officials, currently reviewing public comments, have not yet fully approved the project. In February 2005, following the release of a 4,000-page draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged the importance of the Cape Wind project, but asked the Corps for further research on environmental concerns.
Nogee of the Union of Concerned Scientists hopes that once the environmental concerns are addressed, wind-farm detractors will begin to see the project in a different light.
"Compare [turbines] to smokestacks, mining, drilling, pipelines, oil tanker leaks, and coal trains and wind turbines beat them hands down," he said.