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Technology

Feds Green-Light the Nation's First Offshore Wind Farm

80beatsBy Smriti RaoApril 28, 2010 8:05 PM
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The Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to clean energy sources today by giving the green light to the controversial Cape Wind project, clearing the way for 130 wind turbines to be built off the coast of Cape Cod. The wind farm will be built in Nantucket Sound, and aims to harness the steady breezes blowing along the East coast to produce clean, albeit expensive energy.

The project had been delayed for almost a year due to opposition from local Native American tribes. Two Wampanoag tribes said the turbines, which will stand more than 400 feet above the ocean surface, would disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and burial grounds on the seabed, which was once exposed land before the sea level rose thousands of years ago [Boston Globe]. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who approved the project, assured the tribes that he had ordered modifications to lessen the turbines’ impact. He also said that the approval would require Cape Wind to conduct additional marine archaeological surveys and take other steps to reduce the project’s visual impact [Boston Globe]. If not held back by any other legal hurdles, construction could begin later this year.

The Horseshoe Shoals area of Nantucket Sound is said to be one of the best sites for a wind farm along the entire East coast: It not only has shallow, sheltered waters close to the shore, but also a strong supply of steady breezes. The wind farm is expected to produce as much power as a medium-size coal-fired power plant, and the project is also expected to reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 175,000 cars [Boston Globe]. The company behind the project, Cape Wind, says it can begin generating power by 2012 and hopes to supply power to the residents of Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Some economic details still need to be worked out: The price of its electricity is expected to be higher than conventional power, and Cape Wind is still in negotiations with the utility company National Grid, which has agreed topurchase and distribute some of the wind farm’s power. Despite this hiccup, Cape Wind says the wind farm will be source of hundreds of green jobs and a reliable domestic energy source, while offshore wind advocates are hoping it can jump-start the U.S. industry [WBUR]. Opponents, however, contend that the turbines won’t just endanger marine life but will also be an eyesore in this scenic tourist stop. 

The United States is the world’s largest producer of wind power, but there are still no commercial offshore wind farms; Cape Wind hopes to be the first. The U.S. Department of Energy envisions offshore wind farms accounting for 4 percent of the country’s electric generating capacity by 2030 [WBUR].

Image: iStockphoto

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