Countdown to Cape Wind

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has vowed to make a final decision on whether or not to federally approve the first-ever utility-scale American offshore wind facility—Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts—by the end of this week (April 30). 

Today’s New York Times editorial page encouraged federal approval of the project and reports that the governors of five Eastern seaboard states, including both Republicans and Democrats, reached out to President Obama last week to do the same. The Times and those Governors are not alone—on Friday, the heads of NRDC, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon also wrote a letter to President Obama, urging him to approve the project and begin repowering our country. Here’s why:

  • Cape Wind could produce up to 468 megawatts of wind power—that’s enough to meet 75% of the electricity demand of Cape Cod and the Islands. That’s clean zero-carbon power free of waste, air and water pollution. This can solidify U.S. leadership on curbing global warming—coming out of the Copenhagen conference this will help us reach our historic emissions reduction goals. 
  • As a first-of-its-kind facility—this will jumpstart the American wind industry, a key element of moving forward with building a green economy and creating green jobs.
  • It will help us enter the race to become a world leader on clean energy—Europe & China area already in the game.
  • It is consistent with protecting our oceans—based on the government’s and our own environmental reviews, the benefits of Cape Wind outweigh any potential impacts. At our urging, DOI has also incorporated environmental mitigation and monitoring requirements for the project. 

It’s been a long ride for Cape Wind, and NRDC has been part of the process for every twist in the road.

Cape Wind sought permission from the federal government to build this project back in 2001.  Since then, two different federal agencies have conducted environmental reviews for the project in a review process that has lasted almost nine years, much longer than a traditional coal power plant is typically reviewed.

In 2005, NRDC submitted our own extensive comments on the project’s environmental review studies. We both praised the air quality, public health and global warming benefits of the project, and also urged further environmental studies and monitoring and mitigation provisions that would help to ensure it has the least impact possible. At the time, we wrote: “the environmental standards set for the Cape Wind project will create an important precedent for the future offshore wind facilities in the United States, so it is crucial for us to set the bar in the right place.”

Then in 2006, I went with NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke and other members of NRDC’s oceans and energy teams, on a fact-finding trip to Denmark to inform our nation’s own efforts. We toured three of Denmark’s offshore wind projects and met with Danish government energy experts, wildlife organizations and mayors and tourism officials from the coastal towns nearest this project. We came away impressed by how well the Danish offshore wind projects co-existed with the environment and coastal communities, and full of optimism for the future of offshore wind in the United States.

And finally, after additional environmental review on Cape Wind took place, by 2008 NRDC was ready to officially declare that the project’s environmental benefits outweighed its impacts, and to provide our support for the project.   

Since then, we have continued to participate in each stage of the long review process, culminating in last Friday’s letter to the President with our environmental allies.

Secretary Salazar’s decision on Cape Wind will help to answer the question: is the United State serious about investing in clean energy and creating a green economy? As we count down the days til Friday, we hope the answer is yes.