Hot Air on Wind

One of the most controversial development projects in New England right now is Cape Wind, a windmill farm that has been proposed for the waters of Nantucket Sound in between Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The project's 130 wind turbines would supply power to that part of Massachusetts -- but some people worry that they'll detract from the area's natural beauty or pose a hazard to migrating birds or meandering sailboats. If built, this'd be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., though similar farms are already operating in Europe.

(I spent time with Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind, for a story that'll appear in the December issue of Fast Company about the tough business of renewable energy.)

Today, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft of its environmental impact report on the project. It indicates that the dangers windmills pose - to birds, fish, boaters, and scenic views - are outweighed by the benefits, like decreased reliance on imported fossil fuels and fewer health problems related to power plant emissions.

Still, politicians like Senator Ted Kennedy (whose family's compound in Hyannisport would have a view of the wind farm) and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (whose vacation home in New Hampshire would not) oppose the project. Kennedy says the approval process for wind farms isn't clear enough yet. But Gordon told me they're following the exact same rules as though they were building an offshore oil platform. Romney isn't wild about how the windmills would look.

Next up for Cape Wind president Jim Gordon: navigating what will be a contentious 60-day public comment period, in an attempt to keep his $700 million project moving forward.

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