First Offshore Wind Farm In The U.S. Gets Approval After Decade Of Red Tape

After a decade of dealing with environmental and regulatory red tape, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. received final approval this week to start construction. The $1 billion-plus, 130-turbine, 468-megawatt Cape Wind project now has all the federal permits required to begin building in Massachusetts's Nantucket Sound this coming fall. For anyone wondering why it took a decade for this seemingly innocent project to wriggle through regulatory hell, we've provided a handy condensed timeline below. Hint: it's not so innocent.

December 2001: Cape Wind Associates stage a public hearing with the Cape Cod Commission and public officials to present its project. During the next month, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and the local Barnstable Town Council announce opposition to the wind farm, which could destroy views of Nantucket Sound and disturb wildlife.

December 2002: : Massachusetts representative William Delahunt calls for Nantucket Sound to be declared a national marine sanctuary. The next month, Clean Water Action, Greenpeace U.S, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council declare support for Cape Wind. Battle lines are being drawn.

November 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers release a report in favor of the wind farm, triggering a 60-day debate and four public hearings. 

February 2005: The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound unleashes an 800-page report criticizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers's environmental review. The EPA calls for more research on how Cape Wind will affect wildlife. In March, the U.S. Interior Department joins the EPA in ganging up on Cape Wind. The never-ending debate continues.

August 2005: New laws turn over the jurisdiction of offshore renewables from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Minerals Management Service. The agency says it will do its own environmental review (we all know how "environmental reviews" went at that meth-filled, porny agency).

April 2006: Nantucket voters nix Cape Wind in a non-binding referendum.

October 2007: The Cape Cod Commission, the local land-use planning and regulatory agency, reject the Cape Wind proposal on "procedural grounds." More red tape.

January 2009: The Minerals Management Service environmental report finds almost no problems with Cape Wind. In February, the FAA releases a finding that Cape Wind could be hazardous to U.S. air travel because of radar interference.

October 2009: The Cape Cod Commission denies Cape Wind permission to build buried transmission lines. The Commission is soon overruled by the state. This same month, two Native American tribes push for the Nantucket Sound to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

August 2009: Senator Ted Kennedy, a powerful opponent of the project, dies. While never stated as a reason for his opposition, Cape Wind would have affected the views from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.

April 2010: The U.S. government ultimately rejects the Native American claims (surprise!), and Ken Salazar approves Cape Wind. In October 2010, Salazar signs a 28-year lease for the wind farm.

November 2010: Massachusetts regulators approve an agreement to buy half of all electricity produced by Cape Wind. The wind farm still doesn't have a buyer today for the other half of its power.

This brings us to today. Cape Wind has all of the federal permits it needs, but opponents are still making threats ("They are attempting to declare victory in a war that is far from over," said an irate Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in an interview with the Boston Globe). There are still 11 pending lawsuits against the project, so Cape Wind Associates had better get started before some other regulatory hurdle appears.

Cape Wind's plight does not bode well for future offshore wind developments, which could, according to the DOE, provide 20% of the country's electricity needs. That percentage doesn't take into account the environmental and technical issues, which are considerable. If Cape Wind has taught us anything, it is to not underestimate the power of people who don't want their pristine landscapes soiled by turbines. America provides a lot of recourse for people who are angry (especially when some of the angry people are elected officials). Ultimately, wind energy will probably have more success on land in remote areas of the country, rather than off the coast of incredibly popular beaches. That 20% projection is unlikely, to say the least.

Image, via Cape Wind. Those are the tiny turbines, six miles off the coast.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Anony Mousse

    @ashley g -- your argument against wind power is a classic example of hot gas, unencumbered by factual content. the number of birds and bats killed by wind generators? i am an animal lover and even i recognize the 'birds killed' argument is rubbish -- pollution and climate warming have a far deadlier effect on wildlife than wind generators will ever have. wind generators are not reliable or efficient? rubbish- -- i challenge you to find studies or statistics that support that vague claim. destroying mountaintops or wildlife habitats? more rubbish -- again, i challenge you to find facts that support that statement.

    wind power is one valid component in an array of possible power sources that are waiting to take the place of oil/nuclear. the more people spew empty arguments in knee-jerk, short-sighted opposition to change, the longer the big oil and nuclear corporations will have to make big money (while despoiling our planet).

  • ashley g

    Wind energy is not a reliable or efficient source of energy. It's hardly "green" to destroy mountaintops or other wildlife habitats to install them, either. Not to mention the number of birds and bats that are killed due to windmills. We're on the right track, but this is not the solution to our energy problems.

  • Barbara Durkin

    On the surface, Secretary Salazar arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard yesterday to announce his approval of the Cape Wind Construction Operation Plan COP.

    But in reality and fiscal terms, the Secretary came to Boston to announce the Cape Wind, N.Grid "Green Energy Tax to Consumers" of $4.0 Billion dollars over market prices.

    Cape Wind has no assembly facility, lease for same, or manufacturing facility, or location for same. Yet they'll be under construction by September 30, 2011 to qualify to 1603 Federal Stimulus to offset Cape Wind investment cost by 30%. Either this is Cape Hocus Pocus, or Cape Wind at 24.4 cents per kWh sans public subsidies.

    TransCandada, seeking to overturn the Cape Wind, NGrid contract approval by MA D.P.U. in Mass Supreme Judicial Court, has offered wind energy at 11 cents per kWh to Massachusetts.

    The Obama and Patrick Administrations' unfortuntely don't recognize that high taxes kill jobs.

  • Richard Geller

    While I appreciate the reluctance to gaze out to sea—only to see wind turbines catching the sunlight out on the far horizon, I must admire the extraordinary perseverance of the Cape Wind proponents. We can hope, I suppose, that the transition to wind, solar and other greener alternative energy sources will become easier and faster. I'm not holding my breath, though.