Opponents of the stalled Cape Wind project have appealed a federal agency’s decision to allow the offshore wind energy developer to maintain its long-term federal lease in Nantucket Sound, where the company had planned to build 130 wind turbines.
The notice of the appeal was filed on Nov. 21 with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the project’s primary opposition group. The board, which is part of the U.S. Interior Department, decides “appeals from bureau decisions relating to the use and disposition of public lands and their resources,” according to its website.
The appeal by a group of organizations — including the town of Barnstable, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership — comes after a September decision by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reaffirming Cape Wind’s lease of 46 square miles of the sound.
The federal agency concluded in a supplemental environmental impact statement issued in August that the seafloor at the site of the proposed wind farm was stable enough to support the turbines but the review should have been expanded to include “a series of setbacks for Cape Wind that make it clear the project is no longer viable,” according to the alliance’s statement.
Cape Wind was first proposed 16 years ago and has faced opposition almost from the start, including a number of legal challenges seeking to terminate the federal lease the company secured in 2010.
Opponents have argued the project is a danger to navigation, marine life, birds and the local economy. Despite those objections the project had been riding high since receiving a slew of state permits in 2009, the federal lease and contracts to sell most of its power to two large utilities.
Cape Wind was dealt a major setback in January 2015, when Eversource and National Grid ended those contracts to buy power from the turbines, and again in 2016 when the state Energy Facilities Siting Board declined to extend permits for the project.
Opponents of the project contend that changing technological and environmental conditions ought to be considered in a new analysis of the project’s impact.
“The town of Barnstable is looking to open up hearings in front of the Department of Interior to thoroughly examine all of the circumstances that have changed since then,” said Charles McLaughlin, assistant attorney for the town of Barnstable.
Despite the many setbacks, the company, which had already spent more than $100 million on the project as of 2016, has remained in good standing on its annual $88,000 federal lease payments. The most recent estimates of the project’s total cost pegged it at more than $2.6 billion.
Citing relatively new concerns, such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale population, Cape Wind’s detractors are still urging federal officials to terminate the lease.
“Stakeholders who are opposed to this project are as opposed as they’ve ever been,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the alliance.
Cape Wind president James Gordon said he was aware of the appeal but declined to comment on it.
Other groups supporting the appeal include the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, the Cape Cod Marine Trades Association, Hyannis Marina, the Barnstable Municipal Airport, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association.
The project was touted as the likely first offshore wind farm in the U.S., but in 2016 that distinction went to Deepwater Wind, which built a 5-turbine, 30-megawatt project off Block Island in Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind is one of three offshore wind energy companies seeking to build projects south of the Islands, plans which have garnered far less opposition because of their location farther out to sea.
“As long as Cape Wind has a lease, Nantucket Sound is vulnerable to development,” Parker said. “We have to remain vigilant because their lease is valid through 2041.”