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Sides clash over request to delay wind farm review

Which comes first, a set of guidelines or a specific review? That's the latest question being asked in the saga of a proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound.

Project opponents are asking that the federal government's review and permitting process be put on hold until the Minerals Management Service issues guidelines regarding its new role as lead authority for all renewable energy projects on the outer continental shelf. The agency, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has until mid-May of next year to establish those guidelines.


But wind farm proponents say the requests fly in the face of Congress' intent when it passed the Energy Act of 2005. That act, which was signed by the president Aug. 8, gave the Department of the Interior decision-making power over the project. It also indicated that reviews of both the Cape project and a similar proposal off New York's Long Island would continue.


In a Nov. 9 letter addressed to Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound joined 20 other organizations asking Norton to set standards for renewable energy projects before permitting any specific project. Other groups signing the request included the Barnstable Land Trust, the Cape-based International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.


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  Project opponents are asking that the federal government's review and permitting process be put on hold until the Minerals Management Service issues guidelines regarding its new role as lead authority for all renewable energy projects on the outer continental shelf. The agency, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has until mid-May of next year to establish those guidelines.


     But wind farm proponents say the requests fly in the face of Congress' intent when it passed the Energy Act of 2005. That act, which was signed by the president Aug. 8, gave the Department of the Interior decision-making power over the project. It also indicated that reviews of both the Cape project and a similar proposal off New York's Long Island would continue.


     In a Nov. 9 letter addressed to Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound joined 20 other organizations asking Norton to set standards for renewable energy projects before permitting any specific project. Other groups signing the request included the Barnstable Land Trust, the Cape-based International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.


     The six-page letter makes several recommendations but states that only an established process would create "a sound basis" for reviewing individual projects: "Clearly, it is putting the cart ahead of the horse, as well as running the risk of establishing negative precedent, to proceed with this ad hoc review of individual projects before these more comprehensive planning processes are complete."


     Two views


     Charles Vinick, president and CEO of the Alliance, a non-profit group opposed to the wind farm, said the letter "shows the broad and deep concern of many environmental groups on responsible renewable energy development and the protection of natural resources like Nantucket Sound."


     The letter also echoes letters to federal agencies sent earlier by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and state Attorney General Thomas Reilly, both vocal critics of plans to construct 130 wind turbines on a 24 square-mile section of Horseshoe Shoal.


     To Cape Wind Associates, the developer seeking approval to build the nation's first offshore wind farm, the letter represents little more than an attempt to stall the project.


     "The letter is a wish list of open-ended delays that would prevent the public from realizing the benefits of clean offshore wind energy for many years or even decades," said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind. "Cape Codders recently learned that their electricity rates are going up 80 percent because of the skyrocketing cost of fossil fuels being imported into our region. It is high time that we tap our own local, clean and affordable energy resources."


     Rodgers said Cape Wind has already faced "a more thorough and comprehensive government review" than any other existing power source in New England, including that of the oil and natural gas-fired Mirant power plant in Sandwich and the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth. He added that the recently announced MMS timetable, which calls for a revised draft environmental impact statement by May and "a decision of record" by January 2007, already represents additional review.


     "Delays are irresponsible and do not serve the public interest," Rodgers said.


     The non-profit Conservation Law Foundation sent its own letter to Norton Nov. 16 requesting that project review "move forward expeditiously" in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.


     "The fundamental message that Congress sent [to the DOI and MMS] was this: allow these two project reviews [Cape Cod and Long Island] to move forward as you come up with generalized guidelines," said Seth Kaplan, director of the foundation's Clean Energy and Climate Change program.


     To Kaplan, the issue involves a distinction between Cape Wind's environmental review, which has been ongoing for years, and the larger process of establishing overall guidelines about land management issues.


     "They [Cape Wind Associates] didn't get a free pass," he said. "No environmental rules have been waived for them."


     Kaplan also said it was quite common for government agencies to use "transitional mechanisms" for existing situations while crafting long-term policy. He offered the example of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which in its early days had to address a variety of existing land uses even as it evolved into the national park it is today.


     Hugh Vickery, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior, said the department had not yet had time to review the letters but added that there had been no policy change.


     Gary Strasburg, spokesman for MMS, concurred. "At this point, we're moving forward concurrently," he said.  



Craig Salters csalters@cnc.com


Source: http://www2.townonline.com/...

DEC 8 2005
https://www.windaction.org/posts/638-sides-clash-over-request-to-delay-wind-farm-review
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