Path Forward for Cape Wind and a Clean Energy Future

Today I watched Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, standing with Governor Deval Patrick in the Massachusetts Statehouse, announce that United States has approved America’s first offshore wind project.

Noting that Cape Wind’s path thus far has “not been any easy one,” Secretary Salazar explained that his decision means that the “path forward” will lead to a “clean energy future” for our country.

NRDC President Frances Beinecke had the same take on the Cape Wind decision, writing that “America took one giant step into the clean energy future today.”

What challenges lie ahead as we strive for that clean energy future?

For Cape Wind, Secretary Salazar and Governor Patrick predicted that construction on the project would commence within the next year. And a few challenges still lie ahead before the project can be built and the turbines start to spin. 

  • Cape Wind is negotiating a power purchase agreement with the New England utility company National Grid. If Cape Wind secures a long-term contract to sell its power to the utility, it will be easier for Cape Wind to secure private financing for the project.
  • The Federal Aviation Authority needs to provide a final sign off on the lighting for the project’s turbines.
  • Project opponents may challenge Salazar’s decision. On that issue, Salazar said this was “a final decision of the United States” and that he was confident that the voluminous record complied during a nine year period would withstand scrutiny.

On a larger scale, as we look to build more offshore wind projects along the East Coast, as NRDC offshore wind expert Brandi Colander writes, we need to address additional hurdles for offshore wind.

One important challenge is creating an environmentally protective review process that takes much less time than the nine year Cape Wind process. Secretary Salazar issued new regulations last year designed to do this, but some predictions say the approval process will still take seven and a half years or more. That’s too long.  NRDC will work with the Department of the Interior and other stakeholders to try to create a more expedited process that will also protect our oceans. And, as my colleague Nathanael Greene writes, marine planning and mapping can also lead to a swifter, less contentious siting process. 

And, of course, to achieve a true clean energy future for the United States, we need to make some better choices.  Today’s headlines on Cape Wind vied with headlines of the spreading oil spill from the tragic oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. As Secretary Salazar said today, in response to a question about the explosion and sinking of the rig, our dependence on fossil fuels has damaged our energy independence.

Today’s Cape Wind decision is a real step forward. But to make lasting progress, we need the Senate to move forward with comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that will end our addiction to oil and support the scaling up of renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts to the level our country needs. We can’t afford to wait. We need it now.