Nantucket Sound (41°2713.64"N, 70°15'50.59"W), a 163-nautical-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean offshore of Massachusetts, is the proposed site of the Cape Wind project, which if built would be America’s first offshore wind farm. The proposed wind park would consist of 130 offshore wind turbine generators arranged to maximize the park’s maximum potential electricity output of approximately 454 megawatts. The wind-generated electricity from each of the turbines would be transmitted via a 33-kilovolt submarine transmission cable system to a centrally located electric service platform. This platform would transform and transmit electric power to the Cape Cod mainland (12+ miles) via two 115-kilovolt lines, where it would ultimately connect with the existing electric power grid.
The proposed project has generated enormous controversy. Proponents argue that the Nantucket Sound is an optimal location for the project because of the wind speed and direction in Horseshoe Shoal, the area where the wind farm would be located. Use of this area of the Sound would also provide convenient access to the existing electrical grid. In addition to the environmental benefits of the Cape Wind project – including reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the project could reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies and bring new jobs to the Cape area. According to the developers, Energy Management, Inc., the energy produced from this renewable resource could potentially replace 113 million gallons of oil per year while providing up to 1,000 new jobs.
The developer argues that the proposed project has the additional following benefits:
- The wind farm has been designed with sufficient spacing between wind turbines (a minimum of 0.34 nautical mile (629 meters) x 0.56 nautical mile (1,000 meters) grid) so that the construction and operation of the proposed project will not preclude or prohibit traditional uses of the water-sheet area within or around the wind park turbine array. Use of the water sheet area within the turbine array would include the continuation of general commercial and recreational navigation, commercial and recreational aviation, commercial and recreational fishing, and other traditional water-based activities that promote the use and enjoyment of this area of Nantucket Sound.
- The wind farm would provide a utility-scale renewable power source that would make a significant contribution towards meeting the Independent System Operator – New England (ISO-NE) system energy needs, and, contribute towards the renewable energy technology requirements of state and federal mandates and goals by interconnection with the New England transmission and distribution system.
- The proposed project would help to address the need for new renewable energy supplies in Massachusetts and New England to advance achievement of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); improve fuel source diversity of the power supply in Massachusetts; provide a new source of competitive market power to the New England region consistent with the goals of the Electric Industry Restructuring Act of 1997; and, help to buffer increases in retail energy costs to consumers resulting from existing and future fossil fuel price volatility.
Opponents, on the other hand, feel that the wind farm will not be good for the local community, economy, or environment. The leading voice against the wind farm, The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, argues that the disadvantages and risks far outweigh the potential benefits of the planned project. Nantucket Sound possesses significant marine habitat for a diversity of ecologically and economically important species. The Sound has particular significance for several federally-protected species of wildlife and a variety of commercially and recreationally valuable fisheries. Opponents claim that 130 turbines over 24 square miles will present significant obstacles to fishing, navigation and wildlife in all types of weather, and that tourism on Cape Cod, one of the top ten tourist destination in the country, will suffer. (The developer argues that the wind farm will actually boost ecotourism.) Opponents also note that the impact of the wind turbine generators on birds is unknown.
Opponents argue that Nantucket Sound is more than a body of water. It is a source of livelihood for many local fishermen; an inspiration for artists; a source of solace, relaxation, and recreation for the thousands that vacation there each year. It is a natural treasure that should be preserved. Some residents are concerned that the wind farm will bring significant aesthetic displeasure and noise pollution and argue that the economic costs of the project could potentially exceed the benefits.
Some clarity to the regulatory oversight issue came when the Minerals Management Service (MMS) published a Federal Register notice announcing plans to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Cape Wind Energy Project in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. The notice also asks for public input via written comments and invites interested agencies to participate in the preparation of the EIS as it moves through the official approval process.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Department of the Interior (DOI) authority for issuing leases, easements, or rights-of-way for alternative energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Since its establishment in 1982, the DOI’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has been responsible for management of oil, natural gas, and other mineral resource activities on offshore federal lands. With the new authority in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the MMS will now manage the alternative energy-related uses on Federal OCS lands, act as a lead agency for coordinating the permitting process with other federal agencies, and monitor and regulate those facilities used for alternative energy production and energy support services. As such, the MMS must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 when considering the Cape Wind project application.
In addition to the MMS’ analysis under NEPA, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) will apply to the project’s upland and submarine cable system components in Nantucket Sound out to the 3-mile state/federal boundary. In order to address all the environmental analyses in the most efficient manner, the state MEPA and federal NEPA processes will run concurrently and be analyzed together, within the NEPA document.
- Cape Wind
- Minerals Management Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Cape Wind project site
- The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound