Wearing two hats, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar set April as the deadline for his final decision on the Cape Wind project.
Following a series of consultations with supporters and opponents in Washington Jan. 13, Salazar told reporters that there are “two fundamentally important national priorities that are at stake here.”
There is President Obama’s directive to him to “move forward with the new energy frontier” of renewables, Salazar said, a priority that he must balance with his role as chief historic preservation officer of the country.
The secretary said he will accept public comment through Feb. 12. By March 1, he will decide whether to terminate the consultation and will move toward a formal decision in April, unless the parties have achieved a memorandum of agreement that addresses adverse impacts and provides mitigation.
“I’m not sure that can be accomplished,” Salazar said of the parties coming together. “There is a tremendous amount of passion and history about this issue.”
As for his own leanings, the secretary said, “The possibility remains that I will approve the application in the same way the possibility remains I will deny the application.”
Salazar tried also to quell concerns that the fate of Cape Wind would set the course for all other American offshore projects. He said he didn’t think Cape Wind alone would define the development of wind energy on the Outer Continental Shelf, later noting the “already tremendous investment with respect to wind energy across the county.”
Barnstable Weighs In
Charles McLaughlin, the assistant town attorney who represented Barnstable at the meetings, said the town “put something on the table that has not been public up to now, though we’ve been working on it for ages.”
The proposal involves moving the wind farm to an area south of Tuckernuck Island. “We would try to run the project through the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative or a like entity that could be formed and utilize a joint venture with Cape Wind,” McLaughlin said in a telephone interview.
Under the proposal, the attorney said, the company could “utilize the public funding processes of bonding and loans from rural utility services or otherwise to bring the capital costs down from Wall Street return rates of 15 to 20 percent to about 4 percent.”
McLaughlin said all tax benefits would pass over to Cape Wind. Meanwhile, the Cooperative “would purchase all power at a dramatically reduced price ‘cause they don’t have all this debt service. We would distribute all the electricity to municipalities in the Commonwealth. Utilizing the Green Communities and metering acts, we would bring the price down because of the savings associated with that. We could effectuate over the 20-year life of the project over $1 billion in savings to Massachusetts municipalities in their electric bills.”
If Cape Wind chooses not to participate, McLaughlin said, “we’re looking at three to five years of litigation. If they remain intransigent, they can have their permit this year but not their project otherwise.”
At his press conference, Salazar said moving the project to Tuckernuck Island, south of Nantucket, “would require a new process to begin. Who knows how long it would take to get to a final determination?”
Supporters Spurn Option
During a teleconference held by project supporters, Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, a stalwart backer of the Nantucket Sound location, dismissed the alternative site as “potentially economically infeasible” and also “potentially environmentally more damaging.”
Sue Reed of the Conservation Law Foundation said that “the realm of mitigation must be limited to measures associated with the current location.”
After praising Salazar for becoming “personally engaged” in bringing “this long nine-year regulatory process to a conclusion,” Cape Wind President Jim Gordon laid out the details of a mitigation package that has been on the table for months.
The number of wind turbines has been reduced from 170 to 130, he said, and their paint color changed to one that will blend into the horizon. The array has been reconfigured to avoid sensitive archaeological sites, he said, and the company “has proposed a compensatory program where we would put money on the table that could be used for historic preservation.”
Gordon said it’s unfortunate the other parties have not responded. He added that a representative of state Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles “came to the conclusion that the other site opponents are recommending is environmentally inferior and technically and economically inferior.”
The developer cited polls showing that 86 percent of Massachusetts citizens favor building the project in Nantucket Sound, and that the wind farm has the support of environmental and health advocates. The project, he said, “has passed the environmental hurdles, and the public has an understanding of climate change, the need for new jobs… This is why we have such great support for the project.”
During a subsequent teleconference, Audra Parker, CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, defended the Tuckernuck site as offering “sufficient depth and water area equal in scope to Nantucket Sound,” and as “far superior” in minimizing impacts on tribal and historic sites.
Parker said the Steamship Authority and Hy-Line, both of which operate ferries to the Islands, have “expressed extreme opposition to Horseshoe Shoal [but] are supportive of the move to south of Tuckernuck. The three Cape and Islands airports also support the change, she said.
Salazar is “wrong” about having to begin the entire review process again for the Tuckernuck location, Parker declared. “It’s a very different situation when the site is already included in the federal government’s review [as an alternative]. He can’t on one side say we have a completed review and not done a complete job of looking at alternatives.”
Parker indicated there is no acceptable mitigation plan for the Horseshoe Shoal location. “Nantucket Sound has to be off limits for industrial development,” she said.
“You know how we feel about Nantucket Sound,” Aquinnah Wampanoag historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said. “You know we do not accept anything in the Sound…” She added that she could not make a commitment to the Tuckernuck site without studying its resources if it emerges as a viable option.
Washington and Aquinnah tribal chair Cheryl Andrews-Maltais made it clear that, as the latter put it, “no amount of money” as mitigation would win their support for the Nantucket Sound site. “Our culture… is not for sale,” she said.