- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Obama administration on Wednesday approved the nation’s first offshore wind energy farm off the Massachusetts coast - a move hailed by alternative-energy advocates but one that also drew bipartisan criticism and threats of new lawsuits that would further delay the nine-year approval process.

“This is the first of many projects up and down the East Coast,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who made the much-anticipated announcement in Boston beside Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Mr. Patrick was a supporter of Cape Wind LLC’s 24-acre, $2.5 billion project off Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound.

Mr. Salazar approved the project on the condition that it be scaled back from 170 to 130 wind turbines and that additional environmental and archaeological studies be completed.

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon acknowledged the long approval process and thanked Mr. Patrick for his support. “Going first is never easy,” he said.

Critics of the project voiced their dissatisfaction even before Mr. Salazar made his decision known officially at noon.

“I am strongly opposed to the administration’s misguided decision to move forward with Cape Wind,” said Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican. “While I support the concept of wind power as an alternative source of energy, Nantucket Sound is a national treasure that should be protected from industrialization.”

Mr. Brown expressed concern that Cape Wind would batter the local economy, which relies on fishing and tourism along the 18-mile-long cape and on nearby Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island, and he questioned projections that the wind farm will create as many as 1,000 jobs.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, criticized the fact that Cape Wind received approval without a competitive bidding process and was eligible for government subsidies.

“Offshore wind energy has great potential, but we have missed an opportunity here to do it right,” said Mr. Delahunt, whose district includes the state’s coastal region. “It is simply bad public policy to give ‘no bid’ leases to developers and their Wall Street investors.”

Two local Indian tribes have also fiercely opposed the project, saying the 400-foot-high turbines are slated to be built in part on the tribes’ ancient underwater burial grounds.

One of the two tribes opposing the project, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, vowed Wednesday to pursue further legal challenges.

“The tribe has no choice but to explore all of its options for relief from this decision, including injunctive relief,” tribe officials said in a statement.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said during a teleconference with reporters that the group still intends to file suit. A group official also said at least 10 groups plan to file suits.

Barring new legal barriers, Cape Wind officials said construction would begin within a year.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who has mostly been publicly noncommittal on the project, issued a carefully worded statement largely focused on the permitting process.

“I accept and support Secretary Salazar’s judgment. … I think it’s a benefit to know that every argument, every criticism, every worry was answered,” said Mr. Kerry.

But Buddy Vanderhoop, an Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe member and fisherman, called the decision to go ahead “a federal embarrassment.”

“Everybody I’ve talked to said they are going to vote Republican” in the next gubernatorial race, he said.

Cape Wind posed a delicate problem for President Obama, who has strongly backed alternative energy programs.

The late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a mentor to Mr. Obama’s during his time in the Senate, strongly opposed the project, which is near the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port.

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation also opposed the project, citing earlier this month Cape Wind’s “destructive” impact on the storied Kennedy compound and roughly 30 other historic districts and properties.

But last week, six East Coast governors sent a letter to the administration saying that rejecting Cape Wind for its potential impact to historic sites would be a setback to renewable-energy efforts in their states.

There are at least six other major U.S. offshore wind projects in development - including ones in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region and one off Texas’ Galveston coast that is not subject to federal review.

Cape Wind also is expected to generate more than half of the cape’s electricity needs. However, residents and local officials say the price of the energy will be expensive.

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