Stressing the need for energy independence and technological progress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has signed a lease that will allow 130 wind turbines to be rooted in Nantucket Sound.
"The Department of the Interior is resolute and determined to secure a safer, cleaner energy future for our nation. We do so because we can't afford to remain so dependent on foreign oil," he said last week in a speech to the American Wind Energy Association. "We do so because we can't afford the risks that our energy dependence creates for national security, economic security, and environmental security.
"And we do so because we can't afford to fall behind China, Germany and India in the race for new energy technologies and renewable energy jobs," he added. "We will not accept second place."
The secretary's decision to sign the 28-year lease, which he did after his speech, likely isn't being received well by all.
Secretary Salazar was pulled into the wind project when the National Park Service’s Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places determined that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the register because for of its significant archeological, historic, and cultural values. Those values, Secretary Salazar said back in March, must be considered in the Minerals Management Service's review process regarding a permit for the Cape Wind project proposed to be built in Horseshoe Shoals.
The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes, the "People of the First Light," had sought the listing determination, arguing that the proposed wind farm would impact sacred rituals they conduct on the sound by obscuring the sunrise. The tribes also have contended the project would impact submerged tribal burial grounds. Others object to the project because they believe it would blight the viewshed and create environmental and navigational impacts.
Cape Wind Associates, LLC, plans to build and operate a commercial wind energy facility on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Massachusetts. The project calls for 130 turbines of 3.6 megawatts, each with a maximum blade height of 440 feet, to be arranged in a grid pattern in 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound in federal waters off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island. The projected maximum electric output would be 468 megawatts (average of 183 MW) and serve communities in the Nantucket Sound area.
In April, when he announced that he would endorse the project, the Interior secretary emphasized that Interior officials had taken extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on traditional cultural resources and historic properties, including government-to-government consultations with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and that he was “mindful of our unique relationship with the tribes and carefully considered their views and concerns.”
Because of concerns expressed during the consultations, the Interior Department has required the developer to change the design and configuration of the wind turbine farm to diminish the visual effects of the project and to conduct additional seabed surveys to ensure that any submerged archaeological resources are protected prior to bottom disturbing activities.
Specifically, Secretary Salazar required efforts to reduce the visual impacts from the Kennedy Compound National Historic Landmark; to reconfigure the array to move it farther away from Nantucket Island; and to reduce its breadth to mitigate visibility from the Nantucket Historic District. Regarding possible seabed cultural and historic resources, a Chance Finds Clause in the lease requires the developer to halt operations and notify Interior of any unanticipated archaeological find.
In his speech to the wind energy association, the Interior secretary stressed the need for the United States to develop a stream of clean, renewable energy at the same time that it develops its fossil fuel reserves.
"The fact is that, even as we transition to a sustainable energy economy, we will continue to rely on oil, gas, and conventional fuels. The Energy Information Agency projects that U.S. energy demands will rise 14 percent over the next 25 years," Secretary Salazar said.
"We need oil and gas. But – as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill made so clear - we need to produce it safer, smarter, and with stronger protections for the environment," he continued. "For 30 years, under the oversight of both Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses, industry ventured into deeper and deeper waters without adequate oversight.
"Drilling technologies accelerated, but safety technologies and the government’s regulatory framework were left behind. That gap is unacceptable."
Wind energy, meanwhile, holds the promise of a clean flow of energy, he said.
"Clean energy jobs are in places like Pueblo, Colorado, where a wind tower manufacturing plant opening there will put over 500 people to work. The new energy revolution is springing to life across the country," Secretary Salazar told the association's members. "The U.S. installed a record 10,000 megawatts of new onshore wind capacity in 2009, or enough to power over 2 million new homes. This is a great start, but it is only the beginning.
"If we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process."
How much controversy the drive for clean energy spawns remains to be seen. Already there have been concerns about wind farms' impacts on sage grouse in Wyoming, and the American Bird Conservancy has been on record opposing the Cape Wind project "because the science collected for the project on bird collision threats is inadequate, and the site will reduce prime offshore sea-duck foraging habitat."
"Further, there are data to suggest that loons will likely abandon the area for years to come, and there may be significant impacts to endangered Roseate Terns , which breed in nearby Buzzard’s Bay and feed in Nantucket Sound,” said Dr. Michael Fry, director of conservation advocacy for American Bird Conservancy.
With the Cape Wind project now signed off on, Interior officials are looking to the West for additional clean energy projects.
Secretary Salazar noted that last week he also approved a fast-track process for two solar energy projects in California that are expected to generate more than 700 megawatts of power. Additionally, he noted that his department "is in the final stages of processing several major wind, solar, geothermal, and transmission energy projects in western states," with a goal of finalizing reviews of the projects by year's end.
"I am proud of the progress we have made. It shows we can cut red tape without cutting corners," said Secretary Salazar. "And, if we can do this type of work on the 250 million acres of the Bureau of Land Management, we should be able to do the same on the 1.75 billion acres of our nation's outer continental shelf."