Cape Cod Offshore Wind Farm Cleared for Take Off

  • Published on January 16th, 2009

offshore wind turbines

The Cape Wind project in Massachusetts cleared its biggest hurdle to date on Friday when the U.S. Minerals Management Service gave final environmental approval to the 450 megawatt offshore wind farm.

The eight year-old battle for what would be the country’s first offshore wind farm may finally be nearing an end as the long-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement reported negligible to minor impacts across all but one of the 27 resource areas studied. The impact on marine birds was the only one judged to have anything above negligible to minor environmental impacts. Taken in full, MMS found the project would have no significant environmental impacts.


Needless to say, Cape Wind supporters enthusiastically welcomed the decision. The project’s developer, Jim Gordon the CEO of Cape Wind Associates said “Massachusetts is one major step closer to becoming home to America’s first offshore wind farm and becoming a global leader in the production of offshore renewable energy.”

The release of today’s EIS represents the second such study conducted by the federal government. In 2005 the Department of the Interior conducted an EIS for Cape Wind that was essentially annulled by the passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The ruling meant that an entirely new EIS would have to be conducted by the Minerals Management Service, the agency that was given regulatory jurisdiction over offshore wind farms.

Pending an almost certain approval from the incoming Obama administration, the project still awaits decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard on whether it would interfere with airplane and marine radar. Past studies by the F.A.A. found no real threat, but Jim Peters, an agency spokesman, said that officials visiting the site last summer found some evidence of possible electromagnetic interference.

Based on previous official statements from the Coast Guard, there is good reason to believe that the effects on marine radar will be deemed negligible.

Cape Wind opponents vowed to keep on fighting the 130-turbine, 450-megawatt project despite overwhelming support of 87% of Cape Cod area residents.

>>See also: Massachusetts OKs 10% Wind Power Requirement

Opponents will likely find a way to bring a lawsuit and are also awaiting the results of an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Interior into the propriety of the environmental review process requested by “Cape Cod residents.”

Quick to respond to today’s decision was longtime critic of the project, senior Massachusetts’ Senator Edward Kennedy, who chided the action in a statement. Kennedy said he did not do not believe that this action by the Interior Department will be sustained as it would assure “years of continued public conflict and contentious litigation.”

For Cape Wind opponents, the only threads of hope left to hold on to—unsubstantiated investigations of proper conduct, hopes for unfavorable reports from the FAA and Coast Guard, and statutory challenges with shaky legal footing—look a lot thinner after the release of today’s report.

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About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.
  • Imagine what some archaelogist will imagine this was for in a 1000 years.

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  • handy

    i think this is a good step. If we get 99problems urban farming involved it would have an even bigger effect

  • Excellent rebuttal Tim. I don't think this would hurt tourism at all, boating well you'd really just have to do it and see there but I kinda doubt it. Also another point people rarely bring up is that going forward renewable energy will become more and more a high fixed cost but low variable cost endeavor. This should mean that in the long run renewable energy will always be cheaper.

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  • Hi Victoria-

    I appreciate your concerns and the elucidation of your well thought-out position on this matter. This is a multidimensional issue and you have obviously spent some time thinking about the stickiest parts of this issue.

    Let me respond to your points in order:

    1. I didn’t grow up on Cape Cod, but I feel like I did. See, my father was born and raised in Harwichport. His father (my Grandpa) was also born and raised in Harwhichport. Before that, my great-grandfather was one of the last sea captains to hold a license allowing him to captain any sea-going vessel. He was also born and raised on Cape Cod. I have very strong ties to the Cape and have lived there myself as recently as 2000. The only reason I am saying this, is that I feel like I can speak with some level authority about these ‘natural resources’ and ‘scenic vistas.’

    2. The tourist trade is in no way threatened by the potential of Cape Wind. Just ask residents near the Middlegrunden offshore wind farm in Denmark where the turbines have actually increased tourism and created a cottage industry of their own. Coming from a guy who spent hours upon hours making sandcastles, flying kites, sailing his Sailfish (albeit, poorly), and swimming in the waters of Nantucket Sound, I would love to go back to my favorite beach today and catch a faint glimpse of Cape Wind on the horizon.

    The impact on both tourism and fishing has been overblown by the project’s opponents. For now, I will not even go into the environmental impact 200+ years of trawling has had on the marine health of the Sound.

    3. Your point that electricity from renewables is 2-3 times more expensive than conventional forms of electricity is a little wide of the mark. Maybe taken as a whole, but if you look at the cost of the energy produced by Cape Wind versus the cost of building any other new source of electricity on the Cape, you will see the difference is not as clear cut. Of course, this is also an apples to oranges comparison. The environmental costs (you might like to call them ‘externalities’) of operating coal-fired, oil-fired, or other fossil-fuel power plants has been thus far overlooked. Factor in an almost certain carbon tax and all of a sudden offshore wind will be a no-brainer.

    4. I don’t really understand the line of questioning about what to do when Cape Wind fails like other proposed marine wind farms across the country, so I can’t really respond.

    5. As far as No Man’s Land being a better site alternative, I can’t really comment, other than the issue you raised about that particular location costing more.

    6. Finally, as a former registered voter in Massachusetts I think Ted Kennedy has been an excellent public servant for the people of Massachusetts, I just wish he would come around and see the issue as the vast majority of his constituents do.


  • Here is the deal on the Cape Wind Farm. I am all for renewable energy, I even write a blog about it. I am also going to school to get a certificate in renewable wind energy. But I am also a resident of Cape Cod. I do not live in a big mansion; I do not even have a view of the water. The people who own those houses only stay there and spend their money on the Cape three months of the year.
    I, like most of my neighbors, survive on the three month tourist trade season. Other than those three months there is not a lot going on in our economy. It is cold and windy (great for a wind farm) and nobody wants to come and spend. Large corporations are scared off by our exorbitantly high land prices and taxes, so they are not providing year round jobs. We rely on the tourist trade.
    Our tourist trade is based on two things our beautiful beaches and our excellent boating. Both of those will be in jeopardy once construction begins on the wind farm. Every south facing beach will have a view of the behemoth structures, including a ten story building, instead of scenic vistas. Both commercial fishing and recreational boating will be barred from using a majority of Nantucket Sound due to terrorism concerns.
    This loss of our single largest natural resource is going to cause a huge loss in tourism dollars which translates to job losses in an already down economy. There will be loses among commercial fishermen who will have less area to fish and will have to travel further to meet their quotas. Jobs brought in by the wind farm are apt to be union and out of state jobs, they will not be filled by the locals. On top of which, electricity from renewable energy costs 2-3 times more than conventional electricity, so an already strapped economy will get a double whammy with higher electrical costs.
    If Cape Wind fails, as other proposed marine wind farms across the country have, who will pay the price? Will the government bail them out? Who will clean up any construction in progress or towers that are no longer being maintained or used? Once Nantucket Sound is gone it is a natural resource that is gone forever.
    No I am not against the wind farm; I am against the location of the wind farm. South of Martha’s Vineyard there is a little island called No Man’s Land. Most likely anybody who lives west or north of the Cape Cod Canal has never heard of No Man’s Land. During the Cold War this little island was used as a military ordinance testing ground. This area is no longer used, yet is and always will be, off limits to the public. The island is surrounded by shoals, as is most of the waters south of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. These waters don’t make for great boating, but they make for shallow installation of towers and actually better, unobstructed wind for a wind farm. Why has this never been a consideration? Money. It would cost more money to install a cable from there to one of the islands and then to the mainland. It is all about the wind farm’s bottom line, not the residents of Cape Cod who have to live here.
    As for Senator Kennedy, you may consider him an elitist, too old or senile but he has done nothing but stand up for his constituents. He was elected to represent the best interest of the people of Massachusetts and that is exactly what he has always done and even continues to do now. He is not against renewable energy. It was his brother, President Kennedy, who was hailed for having the forethought to save a good portion of the Cape from development when he proposed the Cape Cod Natural Seashore. Now his brother is being chastised for his forethought to save Nantucket Sound. Senator Kennedy is for what is best for the people of Cape Cod and the people who enjoy vacationing here.
    Sometimes when looking at what is “right” we also have to look at the big (and small) picture and find what is best for everyone. In this case wind energy is best placed south of its current proposed location so that it can benefit the environment as well as the people it serves.

  • It's all about the views. The views from their summer mansions that is. and interference with their yachting, and lack of financial support from all of their other large political contributors who have beach "homes" in the area.

    Cape Cod landowners are not interested in Jack Kennedy's legacy or special privileges for Cape Wind. Horrified by an obstructed seaview and interference with their yachting, they retained top lobbyists. Guy R. Martin of the Perkins Coie law firm in Washington is registered as representing the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Two former congressmen — Republican Tom Loeffler of Texas and Democrat Billy Lee Evans of Georgia — have lobbied against the wind farm.

    The Kennedy neighbors on Cape Cod have traditionally opposed the Kennedys politically, but they are all in bed together in opposing Cape Wind. That includes the Egan family, owners of EMC Corp. who have been generous in political contributions to Republicans, notably Romney. Industrialist William I. Koch, another Republican benefactor, joins Kennedy in the battle.

    Kennedy may be evil incarnate for right-wing ideologues, but the wind farm fight shows how well he gets along with Republican politicians, such as Romney. On NBC's "Meet the Press" recently, Kennedy overflowed with compliments for the Republican governor. When I pointed this out to Romney, he responded by praising the Democratic senator's cooperation on Massachusetts issues — such as the wind farm.

  • Brian

    I have always been in large disbelief when about Sen Kennedy since I first heard about his opposition to this. Never doubted he was a rich hypocrite, but being one that has championed the environment many times in the past, I'm just really shocked by his behavior. Either way, I think he has long outlived his usefulness to us as a Senator. For the record, I have mostly been in favor of his actions over the years.

  • just because we got one ufo with a wind turbine some weeks ago does not mean it's gone stop the aliens mother ship. for the billions we give to the military and this is it…

  • Jet

    Senator Kennedy is not on the wrong side. He is where he is – the senile side.

  • Jame Mighty

    Wow, cool looking wind farm aint it?

  • This battle has been going on for far too long, and I find it hard to believe that Senator Kennedy is on the wrong side of this debate. We need leadership to turn this country around.