BOSTON, - Facing opposition from lawmakers, fishermen, local officials, residents and environmental groups, the long-discussed Cape Wind Energy Project appears poised to secure permission from federal regulators to continue its efforts to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
A project official and project opponents said the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) last week released a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the Cape Wind project which keeps the project's lease intact. But agency spokesman Stephen Boutwell told the News Service in an email that an FSEIS on Cape Wind will be published on Friday.
The draft impact statement contemplated only two possible outcomes: affirming the continuance of Cape Wind's lease and allowing the project developers to continue their efforts, or rescinding Cape Wind's lease. The final impact statement, portions of which were provided to the News Service by project opponents, refers to the affirmation of the Cape Wind lease as the "proposed action."
Federal authorities are expected to make their lease decision final by early September.
"BOEM will issue a Record of Decision regarding the two alternatives (the Proposed Action and the No Action Alternative), no sooner than 30 days after the publication of the Notice of Availability (NOA) of the Final SEIS for the Cape Wind Energy Project," Boutwell said in an email Wednesday. "The NOA of the Final SEIS should publish in the Federal Register on August 4th."
Project opponent Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said BOEM's supplemental environmental impact assessment was conducted with too narrow of a scope and did not take into consideration that offshore wind technology has advanced since Cape Wind was first given federal approval in 2010, Cape Wind's failure to extend state permits, alternative clean energy projects that are now possible, and the termination of power purchase agreements.
"In short, the Cape Wind Project is defunct, and BOEM has no rational basis upon which to maintain the lease in place," the alliance wrote in a comment to BOEM.
Cape Wind President Jim Gordon on Tuesday said the Cape Wind project is not defunct and that his team is "working on the project and we will move it forward."
Gordon said there is still one issue Cape Wind is waiting for the courts to settle, but declined to say whether the project is in a position to move ahead as soon as that issue is ironed out.
A BOEM decision to affirm its issuance of Cape Wind's lease, "preserves the status quo where Cape Wind has development rights or even the rights to transfer the lease to a different developer through the year 2041," Parker said.
"From our standpoint, Nantucket Sound would remain vulnerable to development as long as Cape Wind has that lease and represents that it wants to build 130 turbines in the sound," she said.
Given initial Department of the Interior approval in 2010, Cape Wind was for years billed as the likely first offshore wind farm in the nation. Last year, that designation went instead to Deepwater Wind's 30-megawatt project off Block Island, Rhode Island, a project that has received investments from GE Energy Financial Services and the global bank Citi.
The Cape Wind lease area consists of approximately 46 square miles in Nantucket Sound, 25 square miles of which make up the project footprint area on Horseshoe Shoal, according to the federal government. The lease includes a 28-year operations term and a five-year site assessment period.
Gordon said his goal is to help Massachusetts and New England meet clean energy needs and dismissed opponents who argue the project is no longer viable.
"The project has been analyzed very carefully by 17 federal and state agencies," he said. "The world is transitioning to renewable energy, we have significant environmental and energy challenges in the New England region, and the more renewable energy and offshore wind we can put on the grid the better our region will fare."
Cape Cod lawmakers are among those urging BOEM to rescind Cape Wind's lease, arguing the project is no longer right for Massachusetts.
"Cape Wind cannot make any claim that that it has or will fulfill its obligations, and lease cancelation is appropriate and required," Reps. Sarah Peake, Timothy Whelan, Randy Hunt, David Vieira and William Crocker, and Sens. Vinny deMacedo and Julian Cyr, wrote to BOEM in May. They continued, "This project is increasingly unlikely to ever be built, and additionally, there are better offshore alternative sites, therefore, Cape Wind's lease should be revoked."
Comment letters opposing the project were submitted by local officials in Yarmouth and Barnstable, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Cape Cod Commission and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
In its own comment letter to the BOEM, Cape Wind in May argued that the fact that so many people and organizations are fighting the project proves that it is a realistic and feasible project.
"The vigor of the opponents' continued efforts to obstruct and delay the regulatory processes demonstrates that they do in fact believe that the Project will be economically viable and financeable," Cape Wind vice president Dennis Duffy wrote to BOEM. "If that were not the case, they surely would not continue to exert such strenuous efforts to further obstruct and delay the project."
Parker said almost all of the roughly 416 comments submitted to BOEM were in opposition to Cape Wind, showing Cape Wind is alone in pushing for it.
"It's clear that the opposition to Cape Wind and support for protecting Nantucket Sound is as strong as ever and support for Cape Wind has eroded dramatically in the face of alternative offshore wind sites," she said.