Green light for 130-turbine project in Nantucket Sound overcomes nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and local environmental opposition
Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 April 2010 17.30 BST
The Obama administration gave the go-ahead today to America's first offshore windfarm in the Nantucket Sound, overcoming nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and other famous denizens of the favourite holiday destination of America's liberal elite.
The announcement provides a much-needed boost for President Obama's green energy credentials in the week that his proposed climate change laws were relegated down the agenda and the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster highlighted the potential dangers of any expansion of near-shore drilling.
The Cape Wind project will comprise 130 turbines that are expected to generate 75% of the electricity for Cape Cod and nearby islands like Martha's Vineyard. It could trigger a major expansion in America's use of wind power, which currently generates only 2% of supply.
Announcing the decision in Boston, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said: "This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast as we build a new energy future. Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter – the US will once again lead the world on technology."
He acknowledged the path to approval had "not been easy" but said: "It has been examined at all levels and on all sides." He promised future decision making on windfarms would be streamlined.
Opponents of the project had argued that the pristine waters of Nantucket Sound, home to whales and sea birds, was an unsuitable spot for a windarm, and that it should be sited further offshore. They argued the 440-foot towers would interfere with local aircraft, complicate ferry services, and crowd out local fishermen. The turbines, as near as 5km to shore, would also intrude on two submerged Indian burial grounds, and wreck the views from the dunes of Cape Cod. But reviews by 17 state and federal agencies, as well as two environmental impact reports, found little of concern.
The Cape Wind project had also encountered strong local opposition, led by the late Ted Kennedy, who used to sail in the Nantucket Sound. The solid bloc of opposition from the Kennedys - even from the environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr - made Cape Wind a tricky project for Democrats. Even John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, leading the push for climate and energy legislation in the Senate, hesitated to come out for the project. The Koch family, the reclusive owners of a private oil company who have homes in the area, also funded a lobbying campaign against the project.
However, Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, said that after facing down 11 previous court challenges, the developers were now confident of finally going ahead. "The favourable decision will really help kick the door open on a whole new industry in this country of offshore renewables," Rodgers said. "Just thinking practically I think Cape Wind is the one offshore wind project that could actually be build and commissioned during the Obama administration. It is going to have a big impact on how much will get done on their watch, actually putting steel into water and putting people to work."
The run-up to today's decision had been seen as a test of the Obama administration's commitment to its green agenda. Obama has put energy security at the heart of his presidency, arguing that reducing America's reliance on imported oil will create jobs and secure future prosperity.
He has made a point of visiting wind turbine and battery manufacturers around the country, as well as solar farms. In a visit to a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Iowa on Tuesday, Obama said: "If we pursue our full potential for wind energy, and everything goes right, wind could generate as much as 20% of America's electricity 20 years from now."
But Obama has also frustrated environmentalists by proposing $36bn in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry, and expanding offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. The White House compounded that anger this week by shifting its legislative to-do list from climate change to immigration, scuttling six months of work by Senators to draft a compromise energy and global warming bill.