Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hill Action Could Kill Planned Wind Farm
Hill Action Could Kill Planned Wind Farm, Backers Say
Foes Worry About Offshore Energy Project's Impact on Shipping, Fishing, Beachfront Views in Mass.

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer

BOSTON -- A proposal before Congress that would limit the construction of wind turbines near shipping lanes could effectively doom plans to build the country's first offshore wind farm near Massachusetts, the project's supporters say.

Officials at Cape Wind Associates LLC say that the rule, being considered as an amendment to a bill in a House-Senate conference committee, would rule out so many crucial sections of Nantucket Sound that there would not be enough space for their 130-windmill complex.

"This is a dire moment for us," said Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind spokesman. He said the rule "would be totally fatal" for the project.

The Cape Wind project, begun four years ago, has proved consistently controversial: Though environmentalists have praised it for providing a renewable source of energy, Cape Wind has determined opponents who are concerned about its impact on fishing, navigation and beachfront views.

Those against it are a powerful and bipartisan group, including Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The latest move against the wind project has come from Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In a letter to his colleagues that was released by Cape Wind officials, Young has called for an amendment banning all wind turbines within 1.5 nautical miles of shipping and ferry lanes.

He said the ban was based on research in Britain, which found that the turbines' massive blades could interfere with shipboard radar. In the letter, Young singled out the Cape Wind site -- which is surrounded by sea routes between Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard -- as particularly unsafe.

"The Cape Wind proposal provides in some places only a 1,200-foot separation" between sea lanes and wind turbines, ". . . threatening loss of life, injury and pollution," the letter says. A spokesman for Young did not respond to calls for comment about the letter.

Officials at Cape Wind call the concerns about navigation a pretext for killing the project. They noted that a risk assessment completed by a contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 found that "the presence of the Wind Park . . . is not expected to create negative impacts to navigational safety."

The project has been closely watched because it is one of the most advanced proposals to build a wind farm in U.S. waters. The country has numerous windmill farms on land, but experts believe offshore turbines could take advantage of strong sea winds and the ease of transporting electricity to nearby coastal cities.

Its supporters say that, in normal wind conditions, the Cape Wind project could provide three-fourths of the power needed by Cape Cod and the nearby islands. After a tortured history in the federal bureaucracy, the federal Minerals Management Service is scheduled to render a final verdict on it early next year.

Supporters said that the move to stop the project was particularly galling in light of President Bush's recent push for the development of alternative and renewable energy sources such as wind.

"This is sort of backdoor politics at its worst, for the worst possible reasons," said Nathanael Greene, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.