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Federal government approves Cape Cod offshore wind farm

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a federal blessing for the controversial Cape Wind project today—clearing a path for mammoth wind turbines to be built offshore of the Massachusetts vacation destination, the first such offshore wind farm in the U.S. Given that the United Kingdom (alone) has 1 gigawatt of such offshore wind as of 2010 and Denmark has been building offshore since 1990, you might wonder what’s taken so long? After all, the project was first proposed nearly a decade ago.

But virulent opposition from Cape Codders ranging from (recently deceased) Ted Kennedy to the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans has delayed erecting a single turbine at Horseshoe Shoal, nearly eight kilometers offshore. And, while some preliminary work has been done to select sites in other states, such as Delaware, as the fate of Cape Wind blows, so blows the offshore wind industry in the U.S.

That’s too bad since much of U.S. electricity demand is located on the nation’s East Coast and the renewable resource closest to that burgeoning megalopolis is, you guessed it, offshore winds. In fact, one study predicts that all of that demand could be met by sea breezes and reliably too (as long as the proper wiring was installed at the same time).

Salazar made some concessions to the opposition, downscaling the project from 170 to 130 turbines and reconfiguring the layout of the turbines to reduce their visibility from shore, among others. At roughly 450 megawatts the turbines would be more than enough electricity to meet all of Cape Cod’s more than 200,000 residents’ power needs when the wind blows strong.

Opponents of the project will likely sue, despite the fact that a March 2008 survey found that 74 percent of the folks who actually live in Cape Cod support the project. At issue here wasn’t viewsheds or heritage, but whether some wind turbines could be placed offshore or another fossil fuel-fired power plant needed to be built somewhere else. Killing Cape Wind really would have meant polluting Cape Cod’s neighbors—and standing athwart a clean energy revolution in the U.S.

" The need to preserve the environmental resources and rich cultural heritage of Nantucket Sound must be weighed in the balance with the importance of developing new renewable energy sources and strengthening our nation’s energy security while battling climate change and creating jobs," Salazar said in a statement announcing the decision. "With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility."

Image: ©iStockphoto.com / Tore Johannesen





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  1. 1. Someone else 5:17 pm 04/28/2010

    cool! this is exactly what we needed!

    Link to this
  2. 2. elizabettac123 6:26 pm 04/28/2010

    How could anyone be against offshore wind turbines?

    Link to this
  3. 3. elizabettac123 9:29 pm 04/28/2010

    It’s about time! I can’t believe people fought this for so long! Seriously folks, would you rather have a coal-burning power plant instead?

    Link to this
  4. 4. sethdayal 10:35 pm 04/28/2010

    At $2B producing a claimed but unlikely 180 Mw average Cape Wind is a total waste of money.

    That same $2B would give 1000 Mw average if the ISO made a deal with New Brunswick Power and contracted for most of the output from a Candu nuclear reactor complex.

    Instead of unreliable intermittent wind power the Candu’s would put out extremely valuable baseload power.

    AECL has built so many Candu’s they’ve got new construction down to almost factory efficiency at a sixth the price of wind, half the price of coal or gas, and 4 year construction times.
    http://www.cnnc.com.cn/tabid/168/Default.aspx

    AECL is currently returning old PWR rods with DU added into fuel rods at Qinshan, China and could do the same with old fuel rods (nuclear waste) from Vermont Yankee.

    http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/March2010/23/c3481.html

    Link to this
  5. 5. Soccerdad 11:00 am 04/29/2010

    I recommend naming it the Ted Kennedy Memorial Wind Farm. A fitting tribute to one who wanted to saddle the taxpayer with the cost of wind energy, but didn’t want any wind turbines to mar his view. This project combines the best of both.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jdcthunder 1:26 pm 04/29/2010

    Good… and for those that fought this because it wreaks their view… your house wreaks my view of what should be a natural habitat. And if that isn’t clear enough for you, then let me add this… the Atlantic Ocean does not belong to you!

    Link to this
  7. 7. jdcthunder 1:27 pm 04/29/2010

    Good… and for those that fought this because it wreaks their view… your house wreaks my view of what should be a natural habitat. And if that isn’t clear enough for you, then let me add this… the Atlantic Ocean does not belong to you! The arrogance of these people is amazing.

    Link to this
  8. 8. uli 3:03 pm 05/13/2010

    Great! Now we can emulate Denmark which generates about 5% of its electicity from wind. Denmark could generate about 10%, but unfortunately the wind does not blow when you need it. Also, they have not built more windmills lately because the grid cannot handle any more ot this type of intermittent power source.

    Where does Denmark get the rest of it’s electricity? The answer is that as a small country it gets much of it from imports like Scandinavian hydro and nuclear generated electricity from France.

    Where will we in the U.S. get the rest of our electicity when wind power fails to provide it and we have not built the convential power plants that could do the job?

    Link to this
  9. 9. Syndicate 9:09 pm 05/17/2010

    uli, nuclear power should be our backup and hopefully Denmark can learn to use batteries correctly to fix that problem. Thank God were winning against the hypocrisy of the Codders. Codder Democrats have long complained about fossil fuels AND nuclear but never agreed to turbines off THEIR shoreline! 8km offshore people. I dont know if I can see turbines 8km offshore. Can you?

    Link to this

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