Another Court Victory for Cape Wind

Cape Wind is the first offshore wind project to be proposed and approved in the United States, but unsuccessful litigation by project opponents – largely funded by the oil and gas billionaire Bill Koch – has managed to slow the project’s forward pace.   

Today, the project received a significant victory from a federal district court judge, who rejected the bulk of opponents’ challenges to the federal government’s 2010 approval of the project. The court rejected outright a host of claims that opponents had hoped would kill the project that will be sited in Nantucket Sound, off Massachusetts, including all of the claims related to the environmental review process and the Coast Guard’s review of navigation issues.  While the court’s decision directs the federal government to take another look at two limited issues, NRDC is confident they can be thoroughly addressed in a reasonable time-frame, with a continued green light for this pioneering renewable energy project. 

NRDC’s top priorities are curbing global warming and protecting our oceans.  Deploying sustainable offshore wind allows us to do both. That’s why NRDC, the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation, and Mass Audubon – the state’s leading wildlife protection organization have long-supported Cape Wind and filed two “friend of the court” briefs in support of the federal government’s approval of the project. 

The important work of getting Cape Wind built and operating, and the launching of the next generation of offshore wind projects is what lies next for the promising offshore wind power industry. In fact, offshore wind farms that have been proposed along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia, and in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and off the West Coast, too. With all the advantages offshore wind power has to offer, and with the federal government, states, environmental groups and labor unions strongly in-support, we expect these projects to move forward quickly as well.

Cape Wind and its benefits are impressive. To begin with, the 468-megawatt project will produce pollution-free electricity. In fact, it will produce enough clean energy to meet 75 percent of the combined electricity demand on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.   Replacing dirty fossil-fuel power with Cape Wind’s clean electricity is equivalent to cutting more than 130,000 cars-worth of air- and global-warming pollution. That pollution contributes not only to increasingly extreme weather in New England and the rest of the country, but also to problems such as ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

These put at risk the Cape’s many birds, land animals, and ocean creatures. As Mass Audubon has written in support of Cape Wind: “Rising sea levels and severe coastal storms related to the earth’s warming flood low-lying barrier beaches and islands that serve as critical habitat for coastal birds including the federally endangered roseate tern and the federally threatened piping plover.” All in all, at a time when Americans across the country are already experiencing climate-related extreme weather events from Hurricane Sandy to severe drought—the public health, environmental and ecosystem benefits of  clean renewable energy cannot be overemphasized. 

Moreover, the project can improve electric reliability and air quality and public health in Cape Cod and the Islands. One of offshore wind’s greatest selling points is that it produces the most power when demand for that power is highest—on hot summer afternoons, when, as the grid works now, rising temperatures and the energy demands that rise with them bring online the most expensive and polluting power plants. With offshore wind farms like Cape Wind, we can replace dirty process with clean renewable energy.

On the economic front, there are also many benefits. To begin with, the Cape Wind project will create an estimated 600-1,000 jobs during construction, as well as 150 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. These are jobs for boat captains and crews, for construction workers, metal workers and electricians, and many more.  Beyond these specific jobs, the project will also help jumpstart a promising new industry in the U.S, one that’s already growing like gangbusters overseas. In fact, in Europe alone, where some 60 offshore wind projects are up and running and eleven countries, the offshore wind power industry sustains 58,000 jobs.  Yet, to-date here in the U.S., other than a tiny prototype project in Maine, no offshore wind projects are yet up and running. We are being left behind in the global race to perfect this technology. With today’s decision, and with other important policy steps such as renewing important tax credits for win and offshore wind -- that could change.

If Cape Wind and other offshore wind projects move forward, benefits will accrue to our nation as a whole.   So today’s victory is not a one-off event but an opportunity to build our own offshore power industry. That industry is poised for growth, with projects off America’s coasts in the works now in various phases of planning and development.

And that’s just the start – the possibilities are enormous. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that over the next two or three decades the offshore wind power industry could employ as many 43,000 Americans nationwide in good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Today’s important federal district court decision not only substantially clears the path for the Cape Wind project, it will also help launch something well worth pursuing—a new, sustainable and renewable industry for the U.S. as a whole.