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Offshore wind farm clears one federal hurdle

Plans for the nation's first offshore wind farm got a boost Friday when a federal agency rejected  opponents' arguments that the giant turbines would damage the environment off Cape Cod.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Plans for the nation's first offshore wind farm got a boost Friday when a federal agency rejected high-profile opponents' arguments that the giant turbines would damage the environment off Cape Cod.

A bitter fight over the proposed wind farm has lasted more than seven years. Its foes, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., argue the wind farm would kill birds and endanger sea life, and harm the scenic area's tourism and fishing industries.

But the new Minerals Management Service report said developer Cape Wind Associates' plans pose no major environmental problems.

The new Obama administration will decide the project's fate. President-elect Barack Obama, who wants to double alternative energy production over the next three years, visited an Ohio company that makes parts for wind turbines on Friday. He takes office Tuesday.

"We're handing off to the next administration," said Minerals Management Service director Randall Luthi. "It is up to them to decide."

Supporters say the project will provide cheaper energy, reduce pollution and create green jobs. Various federal and state agencies have been reviewing the proposal for 130 windmills across 25 miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound since 2001.

Cape Wind has pitted two of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts against each other. Both are strong Obama supporters.

Kennedy vs. Patrick
Kennedy, whose family's Hyannis Port compound would have a clear view of the farm, has tried to derail the project in Congress, citing risks to fishing, navigation, aviation and the sanctuary of Nantucket Sound. On Friday, Kennedy criticized the agency's report and said the fight wasn't over.

Map locates wind farm in Nantucket Sound;; 1 c x 2 3/4 in; 46.5 mm x 69.85 mmJ. Bell / AP

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a close Obama ally who wants his state to be a leader in alternative energy, has been a strong Cape Wind backer.

The developers, who have estimated the project's cost at $1.2 billion, hope the wind farm will be operational by the end of 2011. They say it could provide up to 75 percent of Cape Cod's power demands.

The turbines would stand 440 feet above sea level when the tallest blades are pointing straight up.

The report's conclusions were welcomed by supporters who see the wind farm as a safe, clean way to create renewable energy and new jobs.

"Massachusetts is one major step closer to becoming home to America's first offshore wind farm and becoming a global leader in the production of offshore renewable energy," said project developer Jim Gordon.

Opponents vowed to continue their fight, accusing the government of overlooking environmental, safety and other problems as officials rushed to approve the project before the Bush administration departs.

FAA still reviewing
Noting the Federal Aviation Administration is still reviewing the project and that the Interior Department's inspector general is looking into how the Minerals Management Service handled Cape Wind, Kennedy said the project would face tough sledding.

"I do not believe that this action by the Interior Department will be sustained," Kennedy said in a statement. "By taking this action, the Interior Department has virtually assured years of continued public conflict and contentious litigation."

The Minerals Management Service must wait at least 30 days before issuing its final decision on the project. That order will include a decision on whether to issue a lease, Luthi said. Approval would set the stage for Cape Wind to seek a federal lease for the project to be located in federal waters.

Both sides predict legal challenges whatever the government decides.