US approves first offshore wind farm
The US government on Tuesday approved a plan to build the country's first offshore wind farm, in a picturesque bay near Cape Cod, a popular Massachusetts holiday destination.
Installation of 130, 3.6-megawatt wind turbine generators that will stand 440 feet high (134 meters) could begin in Nantucket Sound by the autumn, the Department of the Interior said in a statement announcing that the Cape Wind Project was finally going ahead, 10 years after it was first put forward.
The wind turbines will be built by German company Siemens in Denmark and delivered to an onshore staging area in the United States on freighter vessels.
From there, specialized vessels will carry the turbines to federal waters off the southern coast of Cape Cod, where the wind farm will be erected.
The project, first put forward in 2001, has undergone "an unprecedented level of environmental and regulatory analysis," according to the plan approved by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), part of the Interior Department.
The US government only signed off on the project after "a thorough review of environmental impacts," including on birds, fish, marine mammals and sea turtles, said BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said "extraordinary steps" have been taken "to fully evaluate Cape Wind's potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound."
Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey called the project the first step on a "journey towards the thousands of megawatts of wind energy available off our Atlantic shores."
Michael Conathan, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress, said the project would "finally make America a player in the rapidly expanding offshore wind energy field" and would create "new, green employment opportunities."
The wind farm is expected to create around 1,000 jobs in the United States during the construction phase and afterwards, in operations and management.
Massachusetts-based Cape Wind Associates last year signed a 33-year lease for the area off Cape Cod where the wind farm will be based, and will pay the US government $88,278 in annual rent for the permit prior to production, and a two to seven percent operating fee during production.
Installation of the turbines in Nantucket Sound is expected to take nine months, including delays caused by the weather, a document posted on the BOEMRE website says.
Massachusetts can be battered by fierce hurricanes, and is known for harsh, long winters.
Once completed, the wind farm is expected to supply around three-quarters of the annual energy requirements of Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts by more than 733,000 tons per year.
But Audra Parker, head of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which is opposed to the project, warned backers of the wind farm not to "declare victory in a battle that is far from over."
"The project is the subject of 11 separate lawsuits and appeals" and the company that will build and run the wind farm, Cape Wind, "has not secured the financing," she said.
No one was available for comment at Cape Wind Associates.
© 2011 AFP