Interior: Cape wind approval sends a signal

A controversial offshore wind farm project in Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound could begin construction as soon as this fall, after clearing a major regulatory hurdle on Tuesday.

Top Interior Department officials approved the construction and operating plan for Cape Wind, and underscored the signal this approval will send to other offshore wind projects in the works.

"The department has taken extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind's potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday. "By signing the construction and operations plan today, we are even closer toward ushering in our nation's first offshore wind energy facility while creating jobs."

Michael Bromwich, who directs Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, said the project would "accelerate interest in the renewable energy sector generally and the offshore wind sector specifically, and spur innovation and investment in our nation's energy infrastructure."

The project has been winding its way through the permitting process for 10 years, stalled by an intense local opposition that had been led by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. His family has a home on Cape Cod, near where the farm will be. Locals have objected to the visual impact of the turbines, which will reach 440 feet high from the water's surface. On top of that, interest groups like the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound have argued that the 130 wind turbines could disrupt wildlife and aviation. To that end, the group has suggested alternatives.

Those complaints did not gain traction on the national level. The Interior Department has used Cape Wind as a test case for offshore energy projects and green-lighted one major regulatory step after another.

It's unclear whether Cape Wind will send a strong enough message to investors that the United States is a good place to build offshore wind projects, largely because of the 10-year approval process. Other markets, such as the United Kingdom, have provided more sound investment decisions, wind lobbyists have told National Journal Daily.

Cape Wind developers still need to find a utility to buy the other half of the energy that the farm will produce. National Grid agreed to buy the first half last year.

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