Wednesday, April 28, 2010

After Nine Years, Feds Finally Approve Cape Wind Project

The headline tells you all you need to know about the laborious and labyrinthine regulatory process to bring wind power projects to fruition. It's taken the better part of a decade for the project to win federal approval, but that doesn't mean that the project will move forward anytime soon.
The approval of the 130-turbine farm gives a significant boost to the nascent offshore wind industry in the United States, which has lagged far behind Europe and China in harnessing the strong and steady power of ocean breezes to provide electricity to homes and businesses.

With Gov. Deval Patrick standing beside him, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced at a news conference at the Massachusetts Statehouse that the government had approved a permit for Cape Wind Associates, a private venture, to build the farm.

“I am approving the Cape Wind project,” Mr. Salazar said. “This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast.”

The Cape Wind turbines would lie in Nantucket Sound, about five miles from the nearest shoreline, and cover 24 square miles, roughly the size of Manhattan. The tip of the highest blade of each turbine would reach 440 feet above the water.

But the project is hardly shovel ready. Several regulatory hurdles remain, and opponents have vowed to go to court, potentially stalling Cape Wind for several more years.

The Cape Wind project has been a matter of fierce contention for years, splitting politicians and environmental groups. While some environmentalists are prepared to go to court to stop the project, other major groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, support it.
NIMBY stands in the way of building these clean power projects, and some environmentalists are still standing by the notion that the project will mar the scenery, harm wildlife, or do other environmental damage. The main reason that these wind power projects are being pushed offshore is because doing so would minimize opposition to wind power turbines located near housing or businesses - NIMBY - yet doing so significantly increases the costs for such projects.

New Jersey has several projects making their way through regulatory hurdles, and one of the key studies looked at siting the wind turbines at various distances from shore - the further out to see, the more support the project got.

We're well past time to pursue these kinds of projects, but they aren't without a downside that isn't entirely apparent at first blush. The turbines require all manner of rare earth elements in significant quantities, and there's a race on to corner the market on finding the mother lode. China has been at the forefront of this race, making it incumbent for researchers to find other deposits around the world that also happen to be in politically stable regions.

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