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Off-Shore Wind Farm Gets Green Light in Massachusetts

April 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The Obama administration has approved plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm near the coast of Massachusetts' Cape Cod. Gwen Ifill reports about the alternative energy deal, nine years in the making.
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GWEN IFILL: Now: a second major energy story.

As the government and industry struggled to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the government and industry also took a major step in another direction, opening the door to an entirely different alternative.

The nation’s first wind farm will be built here, five miles off the coast of Massachusetts’ Nantucket Island, in a shallow area of the sound known as Horseshoe Shoal. After nine years of debate and appeal, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bay State Governor Deval Patrick announced the decision today in Boston.

KEN SALAZAR, U.S. interior secretary: Cape Wind will be the United States’ first offshore wind farm, supplying clean power to homes and businesses in Massachusetts, while creating good jobs here in America. This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic Coast.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick and governors of five other East Coast states lobbied Salazar to approve the project.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, D-Mass.: On behalf of the hundreds of men and women who will build this project, the thousands of Massachusetts rate-payers who will benefit from stable electric rates, and the millions of Americans whose security and prosperity depend on energy efficiency, thank you for this decision. Thank you.

America needs offshore wind power. And, with this project, Massachusetts will lead the nation.

GWEN IFILL: Once built, the farm would look something like this one off the coast of Denmark. It would cover 24 square miles, roughly the size of Manhattan, and have 130 wind turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty. That’s 40 fewer than the 170 the developer originally requested.

Plans call for the site to produce 420 megawatts of electricity, enough to provide three-quarters of the power needed by Cape Cod and the islands.

KEN SALAZAR: To be sure, the path to approval for the United States’ first offshore wind farm has not been an easy one.

GWEN IFILL: Opponents who have tried to kill project said they would still sue to block it. Fishermen, American Indian tribes, local residents, the late Senator Ted Kennedy and his successor, Scott Brown, have all raised concerns about the plan’s environmental impact.

The tribes contend it would interfere with sacred rituals and desecrate tribal burial sites.

Cliff Carroll, who leads WindStop.org, spoke to the “NewsHour”‘s Tom Bearden in 2005.

CLIFF CARROLL, WindStop.org: There’s going to be a 10-story, 40,000-gallon oil-filled transformer station in the middle of this wind farm. We’re very concerned that transformers which are prone to overheating could possibly have a massive malfunction, spilling the 40,000 gallons of oil into our fishing beds, our clam flats, and our fishing grounds.

GWEN IFILL: Still others argue that the plan will not be the environmental boon it promises.

Robert Bryce of “Energy Tribune” magazine.

ROBERT BRYCE, managing editor, “Energy Tribune”: The wind energy sector would like to claim — and they have claimed repeatedly — that this is going to result in huge reductions in CO2.

And the — but the problem is, the data just simply doesn’t support that. You can look at the numbers from Denmark, a country that is really leading the world in terms of installing wind — wind electricity generation capacity. And they have seen no reduction in CO2 emissions, despite huge investments in wind-generated electric capacity. And it’s going to be very high-cost. And I think that’s another problem.

GWEN IFILL: But President Obama has embraced wind energy. Just yesterday, he toured the Iowa factory that will make the turbines for the Cape Wind project.

MAN: And, so, when you got orders, naturally…

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You have got to expand.

MAN: … you have got to expand. You got to bring in more people to the facility.

GWEN IFILL: And, today, in Macon, Missouri, he said, increasing wind power could help the economy as well.

BARACK OBAMA: We began early last year by making the largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history. It’s an investment that we expect will create or save up to 700,000 jobs across America by the end of 2012.

GWEN IFILL: Salazar said he’s confident the decision will withstand legal challenges.

KEN SALAZAR: There are those who will say our energy challenges are too large and too complex for one wind farm to make a significant difference. To them, I say this: We are all part of a much bigger change that is sweeping America.

GWEN IFILL: Once begun, the Cape Wind project will take two years to complete.