In a groundbreaking decision that some say will usher in a new era of clean energy, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today he was approving the nation's first offshore wind farm, the controversial Cape Wind project off of Cape Cod.
Salazar said he had ordered modifications to "minimize and mitigate" the impact of the project that would "help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental resources of Nantucket Sound." He said his approval would require Cape Wind to conduct additional marine archaeological surveys and take other steps to reduce the project's visual impact.
"I am convinced there is a path we can take forward that both honors our responsibility to protect historical and cultural resources and at the same time meets the need to repower our economy with clean energy produced from wind power," he said.
He said the United States was leading "a clean energy revolution that is reshaping our future. ... Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter in that future and we are all a part of that history."
Supporters have long said an approval would be a giant step forward for renewable energy efforts in the country, while opponents have said they would seek to kill the project through legal action. The project, if it is not held up by lawsuits, could begin construction within the year.
Horseshoe Shoals, the part of Nantucket Sound where the wind farm is proposed, is widely considered the best place along the East Coast to build a wind farm. That's in part because the site is in shallow, sheltered waters close to shore -- the nearest beach is five miles away. But it is also because it is in federal waters: Political will to build such a massive wind farm in state waters three miles from shore does not exist.
Salazar said the project would create 1,000 construction jobs and produce energy equivalent to that of a medium-sized coal-fired power plant. He said it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 175,000 cars.
Cape Wind Associates said the wind farm could produce enough wind power to handle three-quarters of the electric needs of the Cape and Islands. The price of its electricity is expected to be higher than conventional power. The company is still in negotiations with National Grid, the utility, that has agreed to purchase some of the power the farm produces.
US Senator Scott Brown criticized Salazar's decision, saying it was "misguided."
"With unemployment hovering near ten percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number predictions we have heard from proponents of the project," Brown said in a statement.
But George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, hailed the decision, saying it was "a critical step toward ending our reliance on foreign oil and achieving energy independence. "
"Those who continue to resist and litigate are simply on the wrong side of history," he said.