Now is the time for Cape Wind

Today in the NY Times, there's an exciting article about efforts to develop deepwater, floating wind turbines. The article makes it clear that there are still engineering and major costs hurdles, but I'm hopeful that one day floating wind farms will provide bountiful zero-carbon electricity. But we have to get started today, and fortunately we can. The Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Sound is ready to be built now.

Unfortunately, with seemingly endless review, the future of Cape Wind continues to hang in the balance. On Tuesday, NRDC sent Secretary Salazar a letter (PDF) urging him to require that the Interior Department complete the review of the Cape Wind project and issue a final decision prior to the commencement of the U.N. Climate Change Conference on December 7, 2009. This letter echoes a similar message to the Secretary from Congressman Markey. It is time to have a clear indication from our federal government that offshore renewable energy is a priority in this country.  As the administration and the world gear up for next month's meeting in Copenhagen, action approving the Cape Wind project would speak louder than words.

Cape Wind is still in federal regulatory review limbo after eight years of rigorous environmental and permitting review that has demonstrated that its environmental benefits will almost certainly outweigh its impacts. As the Obama administration's contribution to this delay creeps up on a year, the need for final approval becomes ever clearer. The delay is slowly eroding the confidence of investors and developers and undermining the President's efforts to lead the world towards a global agreement on climate. Today also in the NY Times, Kate Galbraith writes about clean tech companies pressing for federal incentives for clean energy, but no amount of money is going to get projects built if the investors and developers lose faith that good projects will actually get permitted.

The U.S. has watched as other countries have continued to forge ahead in their successful development of offshore renewable energy. (The deepwater floating turbines mentioned in the Times article are being developed in Norway.) It is evident that the technologies for the successful deployment of offshore renewable energy exist, however the U.S. has yet to permit a single project in federal waters. Getting the process right is critical to advancing these technologies in a robust and environmentally sustainable way. We understand that Cape Wind is the first project to get to this stage, that the law has changed since the project started, and that assessing the balance between the project benefits and any potential impacts does require careful consideration. But the process should not take eight years.

It is a new day in Washington. We have courageously moved towards establishing a new era of energy and environmental priorities in this country as indicated in the passage of the 2007 energy bill, American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act. The Department of Interior has been an important part of this progress moving forward and finalized regulations for offshore renewables in general and launching important planning efforts for onshore renewables on federal lands.

Nevertheless as we look forward to Copenhagen and read the steady flow of new science suggesting that global warming is happening faster than we ever expected, we cannot underestimate the challenge that remains in front of us. While a tremendous amount of work remains to be done, with respect to offshore wind in America, further delay is inexcusable. It can be done, and the time to act on the Cape Wind permit is now.

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