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The navigational menace of Cape Wind

...as the reality of the largest proposed offshore wind plant in the world comes into sharper focus, it becomes clear that 130 massive wind machines spread across 24 square miles of the sound threaten not only marine life and wildlife but also public safety.

SO LONG AS the image of the Cape Wind proposal is a graceful wind turbine gently spinning its blades in distant Nantucket Sound waters, the public may well perceive this project as more beneficial than harmful. But as the reality of the largest proposed offshore wind plant in the world comes into sharper focus, it becomes clear that 130 massive wind machines spread across 24 square miles of the sound threaten not only marine life and wildlife but also public safety.

The safety issue has gotten scant attention during Cape Wind's four-year permitting process, but it is now at the center of a congressional debate on whether to impose a 1.5-nautical-mile buffer zone between offshore wind-energy projects and shipping and ferry lanes. An amendment filed by Alaska Congressman Don Young, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has been assailed as little more than an effort to derail Cape Wind, but the amendment is right on its merits.

The Cape Wind project has boldly gone where no other project in the United States has gone -- straight into the heart of heavily trafficked navigable waters and just a few hundred yards from the ferry routes that carry more than 3 million passengers a year to... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
SO LONG AS the image of the Cape Wind proposal is a graceful wind turbine gently spinning its blades in distant Nantucket Sound waters, the public may well perceive this project as more beneficial than harmful. But as the reality of the largest proposed offshore wind plant in the world comes into sharper focus, it becomes clear that 130 massive wind machines spread across 24 square miles of the sound threaten not only marine life and wildlife but also public safety.

The safety issue has gotten scant attention during Cape Wind's four-year permitting process, but it is now at the center of a congressional debate on whether to impose a 1.5-nautical-mile buffer zone between offshore wind-energy projects and shipping and ferry lanes. An amendment filed by Alaska Congressman Don Young, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has been assailed as little more than an effort to derail Cape Wind, but the amendment is right on its merits.

The Cape Wind project has boldly gone where no other project in the United States has gone -- straight into the heart of heavily trafficked navigable waters and just a few hundred yards from the ferry routes that carry more than 3 million passengers a year to and from Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. As a letter from Young to his colleagues noted, the Cape Wind footprint (the size of Manhattan) would leave ferry captains and those of other vessels plying these waters little more than 60 seconds of reaction time if they lose power or get caught in wakes and/or the nor'easters and nor'westers common in these waters. And if the shoals can no longer be navigated by smaller vessels, they will add to channel traffic in an area often shrouded in fog.

As Young also noted in his letter, concern by the Steamship Authority -- lifeline of the islands -- was such that it warned, "[A] complex of this size will at some point contribute to a serious marine accident[and] will have an adverse effect on our ability to safely navigate the area."

Young's amendment is not some theoretical idea but actually mirrors efforts in the United Kingdom to restrict offshore wind farms from major shipping lanes, based on studies of British offshore wind projects, which found that the turbines confuse ship and airplane radar systems, leaving ships to wonder if they are looking at ships or planes or "false echoes," resulting when their radar signals bounce off a turbine blade or the multiple structures.

Cape Wind has played down marine safety throughout the review process. In its own marine-safety assessment, Cape Wind's "worst-case scenario" ignored the three largest vessels that routinely transit Nantucket Sound, including the oil tanker M/V Great Gull, which carries 1.3 million gallons of heating oil about once a month to Nantucket. Maritime history is testimony to sea accidents' happening quickly, often without warning, and in places where they are least expected. Nantucket Sound has proven no exception to this rule.

Another concern relates to ice conditions that occur in Nantucket Sound but not in ocean waters of greater depths. Ice will layer against permanent structures with forces and pressures beyond reasonable measure.

Marine fatalities in U.S. waters are hardly rare. In 2004, according to Coast Guard records, there were nearly 5,000 boating accidents. The boating community has worked with the Coast Guard to reduce the number of fatalities, from 8.3 per 100,000 registered boats, in 1991, to 5.3 per 100,000 registered boats, in 2004. But even with improvements in safety and training, there were still 3,363 injuries and 676 deaths in 2004. Can anyone seriously argue that installing 130 steel turbines, each the diameter of your average living room, would not increase the risk to mariners?

The British experience with offshore wind power is instructive; we should learn from it, as recommended by the Young amendment: A 2004 U.K. North Hoyle Radar Interference study found massive ship-radar interference from turbines. The Royal Air Force Helicopter Radar Trials cited problems from these turbines with attempted helicopter search and sea-rescue missions. And the British Chamber of Shipping, Europe's largest shipping, cruise-line and super-tanker affiliation, advocates a two-mile setback from wind farms as a result of its studies.

With experience as a great teacher, Britain now rejects nearly half of all wind-power-plant applications. We should learn from this history -- not repeat it and suffer from the early mistakes.

The buffer-zone restriction is not the death knell for offshore wind power that Cape Wind claims. Indeed, such a restriction would benefit safety and help establish guidelines that would allow offshore wind power to flourish in appropriate sites and serve the public good.

Norman Wahl, of Osterville, Mass., is a marine pilot.


Source: http://www.projo.com/cgi-bi...

APR 10 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/2098-the-navigational-menace-of-cape-wind
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