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Amendment threatens offshore wind project

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- The nation's most-advanced offshore wind proposal may be stymied by language in the Coast Guard Reauthorization bill, now in conference committee, the project's head says.

The amendment shifting the offshore wind turbines to at least 1.5 miles from any shipping channels would prevent the project situated in the Nantucket Sound from being economically viable, said Jim Gordon, president of the Cape Wind project.

"We need a critical mass of wind turbines," he said. "(The amendment) would make the project uneconomic because to be in the regulated limit you would have to remove wind turbines; it takes you away from your critical mass."

Discussion on the Coast Guard bill is in limbo at a time the administration is embracing offshore wind energy's potential, a key element in President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative.

Last week, the Energy Department also announced a $27 million agreement with General Electric for an offshore turbine development project.

The nonprofit organization Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the Cape Wind project's location in the sound, supports the amendment that is sponsored by House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

"We are in favor of alternative energy and in favor of offshore wind, but we're opposed to the Cape Wind project because the Nantucket sound is an inappropriate site for this kind of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
The amendment shifting the offshore wind turbines to at least 1.5 miles from any shipping channels would prevent the project situated in the Nantucket Sound from being economically viable, said Jim Gordon, president of the Cape Wind project.

"We need a critical mass of wind turbines," he said. "(The amendment) would make the project uneconomic because to be in the regulated limit you would have to remove wind turbines; it takes you away from your critical mass."

Discussion on the Coast Guard bill is in limbo at a time the administration is embracing offshore wind energy's potential, a key element in President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative.

Last week, the Energy Department also announced a $27 million agreement with General Electric for an offshore turbine development project.

The nonprofit organization Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the Cape Wind project's location in the sound, supports the amendment that is sponsored by House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

"We are in favor of alternative energy and in favor of offshore wind, but we're opposed to the Cape Wind project because the Nantucket sound is an inappropriate site for this kind of project," said Charles Vinick, president of the alliance.

The alliance is opposed to the 130-turbine project for several reasons, primarily safety and environment. The alliance, citing a study conducted on offshore wind hazards in Britain, says the turbine's rotating blades will interfere with radar navigation. The group's Web site also stated that there is a risk of tankers and other vessels drifting out of the shipping lane and into the wind farm.

Gordon said that is impossible.

"The wind turbines are located on extremely shallow shoals outside of shipping routes," he said. "The ships would run aground before they could hit a wind turbine."

Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of the Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service, said the effect of turbines on navigational equipment would be taken into account without a legislative requirement.

"The issue raised by the Young amendment, that is the effect of wind farms on radar and navigation is something we would look at any way," Cruickshank said. "We are working with the Coast Guard on those issues; they would be looked at on a case-by-case basis."

The alliance also argues that because Cape Wind is more advanced than any other project proposal, there are no regulations dictating how the project will affect the environment and scrutiny of Cape Wind is good for developing long-term regulations.

How to evaluate the environmental impact of the project has been a point of contention because the original environmental review was conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, which had jurisdiction over permitting of offshore projects. But after the passage of the Energy Policy Act, the evaluation of offshore wind energy was handed to MMS, which must now conduct further environmental review.

"We don't have to start from scratch," said Cruickshank. "The mandate for the DOI from the policy act is broader than what the corps does in their evaluation. There are some things that we are going to look at that they didn't have to look at, but we are not going to redo what we have already done."

Gordon said he is frustrated by the amendment because Cape Wind has been playing by the rules and has completed the permitting process. The amendment, he says, threatens not only all he's worked for, but also other offshore wind projects.

"It will chill the whole industry at a time when the president is calling for offshore wind as part of the Advanced Energy Initiative," he said, speaking of the plan to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "It flies in the face of common sense to deep-six a project that is going to help these goals."

If and when it goes on-line, the Cape Wind project is expected to generate 450 mW of electricity, enough to offset 113million gallons of oil or 500,000 tons of coal a year. It will cost about $1 billion to build the wind farm, funds expected to come from the private capital investment. Cape Wind has already invested $25 million in the project.

Proponents of offshore wind energy are worried that if Cape Wind, the only proposal to reach this stage of development, fails then investors will be discouraged from putting money into future projects.

"If Cape Wind is derailed by the Young Amendment, I can not see how it would not have a devastating effect," said Jamie Steves of the American Wind Energy Association. "It would simply be detrimental."

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said there are 40 other offshore wind projects awaiting permit approval and they aren't waiting on Cape Wind. But Cruickshank said the review process for Cape Wind has been the catalyst, along with the Energy Policy Act, for the creation of a process for review of upcoming projects.

"With respect to our process, we are currently trying to put together a general program as to how to oversee offshore energy," Cruickshank said. "The sorts of issues that have come up during Cape Wind are the things we need to look at."

And now Cape Wind must wait to see whether its efforts to obtain a permit are in vain as the House and the Senate will likely decide the fate of the Coast Guard bill. Cruickshank said the outcome of Cape Wind's proposal will say a lot for the future of offshore wind.

"It is hard to say where offshore wind will be in the long term," he said. "Clearly the success or failure of initial projects will have a big impact on folks who are looking at future investment opportunities."


Source: http://www.upi.com/Energy/v...

MAR 15 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1709-amendment-threatens-offshore-wind-project
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