Massachusetts environmental officials have approved plans for the first U.S. offshore wind farm, a needed step in the project to build 130 windmills near Cape Cod that's opposed by some the state's most prominent residents.
The state's environmental affairs secretary, Ian Bowles, issued the final environmental review today for the project, which is being developed by Cape Wind Associates LLC. Cape Wind, based in Boston, still needs other permits, including from the federal government, before construction can begin.
``We hope with the success of Cape Wind we can inspire other communities to look at their indigenous offshore wind resources,'' Jim Gordon, chief executive officer of Cape Wind, said at a press conference in Boston.
The project has been controversial, with Massachusetts Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry opposing it and some citizens raising concerns it will harm ocean views from Cape Cod.
The Mid-Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Cape Cod has enough wind to generate 330 gigawatts of electricity, according to a study by the University of Delaware. That is enough power to serve all of the citizens of those states and supply electricity to plug-in hybrid vehicles as well, Gordon said.
The Cape Wind project would be capable of generating as much as 420 megawatts of electricity, enough power for 75 percent of the cape's needs. It would offset production of almost 734,000 tons of carbon dioxide in New England, if the electricity were generated by fossil-fuel-powered plants, Bowles said. ``This is the equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road,'' he said.
``Global climate change, sea level rise, dependence on foreign oil and the health impacts of local and regional air pollution create an urgent need for sustainable alternatives to energy produced from fossil fuels,'' Bowles said in a statement.
To mitigate environmental effects of the project, Cape Wind agreed to spend $780,000 to restore a bird habitat, $4.22 million for coastal projects in the area and about $5.6 million in lease payments over 20 years.
The project, first proposed in 2001, won state approval two years ago for the transmission line that would bring power from the turbines to the grid. It still needs certain state permissions and local conservation permits and approval from the U.S. Interior Department, Gordon said. About $30 million has been spent thus far on getting permits for the project.
``We're hopeful that we will complete the permitting process by the end of this year and hopefully receive a final decision by the first quarter of 2008,'' Gordon said. ``We could be producing clean, renewable energy in the 2010 timeframe.''