Offshore wind has been given the go-ahead for construction in Cape Cod. The nation’s first lease for commercial offshore wind energy development was signed at the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) North American Offshore Wind Conference in Atlantic City. On stage in front of an eager group of photographers and applauding crowd, U.S. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar signed the lease with Cape Wind Associates President Jim Gordon. “Our feeling is that America needs all the renewable energy we can get,” Gordon says. “We believed ten years ago that offshore wind could become a major component of America’s energy future. We put our money where our mouth was and with have moved the project forward. In the process we have helped evolved the regulatory framework for offshore wind in America.”
The lease authorizes Cape Wind to construct an offshore wind farm with 130, 3.6-MW Siemens turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, and to operate the facility for a period of 25 years. Gordon says the area is well-suited for the wind farm, with its shallow water, low wave regime, and reasonable proximity to transmit power by under-sea cables, which will run underground to a land fall and the existing grid in Barnstable, Massachusetts. The company expects the project to have a maximum capacity of about 468 MW, and on average produce about 182 MW. On average, the farm will supply 75% of electricity for Cape and islands, meaning Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod.
Since the project’s inception, there’s been quite a shift in public opinion, according to Gordon. “When we started ten years ago, I think there was a visceral reaction,” he says. “There were those who rushed out trying to define the project through misinformation and fear-mongering because of competitive business interest or fears about property values.” However, over the ensuing years and particularly after the draft environmental impact statements came out, Gordon says national environmental organizations like NRDC, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, and The Sierra Club started to support the Cape Wind project, along with organized labor and health and consumer advocates. Independent public opinion polls now show more than 86% of Massachusetts citizens and almost 60% of those on the Cape and islands want Cape Wind built. “We enjoy strong support and favorable public opinion. We’re at a position where we’re ready to start construction.” Gordon says an opposition group funded by coal and oil interests has also tried to stop the project, but the company has overcome their barriers and delaying tactics. Cape Wind’s goal is to start construction during the third quarter of 2011 and complete by the end of 2012.
Gordon explains the next step is for the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to approve the Cape Wind national grid power agreement. “We just completed three weeks of hearings last month, where every aspect of the contract is scrutinized,” he says. “We believe we built a solid evidentiary record for approval.”
Although the company doesn’t see an expansion opportunity within Horseshoe Shoal, Gordon says they will look for other opportunities for more projects in Massachusetts and across the country. And with a U.S. Department of Energy draft plan that calls for the installation of 54,000 MW of offshore wind power capacity by the year 2030 (which would require more than 100 Cape Wind-sized projects) Cape Wind won’t be the only one searching. Gordon wishes other developers the best. “I hope that Cape Wind makes it easier for other developers that come after us,” he says. “I’m sure the federal government will incorporate lessons learned from the long regulatory process. My best wishes go out to all the others now looking up and down the East coast to build offshore wind farms.”
Cape Wind Associates LLC www.capewind.org