U.S. clears way for its first offshore wind farm

The Cape Wind project would be the first wind farm on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, generating enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined.

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved on April 28 the $1 billion (USD) Cape Wind renewable energy project on federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound off the Massachusetts coast. The Cape Wind turbine contract, for 130 3.6-MW turbines, has been struck with Siemens AG (Erlangen, Germany). The turbine manufacturer will open a U.S. offshore wind office in Boston on June 1 and already has invested more than $100 million in production facilities, including a nacelle manufacturing plant in Hutchinson, Kan., and a blade manufacturing plant in Ft. Madison, Iowa. Assuming three blades per rotor, the Cape Wind project will require at least 390 composite rotor blades for the installed turbines.

Sited about 5.2 miles/8.4 km from the mainland, 13.8 miles/22.2 km from Nantucket Island and 9 miles/14.5 km from Martha’s Vineyard, it will be the first wind farm on the U.S. outer continental shelf and is expected to generate as much as 420 MW of power — enough to electrify 420,000 households and meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. Cape Wind is one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in U.S. history. The project is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 665,870 metric tonnes (1.468 billion lb) annually.

First proposed in 2001, the project was delayed for years by legal challenges from various interest groups and wealthy Cape Cod residents. As a result, the number of turbines was reduced from the originally proposed 170 to mitigate visual impacts from key shoreline areas. The Department of the Interior will require the developer of the wind farm, Boston, Mass.-based Cape Wind Assoc. LLC, to agree to additional binding measures to minimize other adverse impacts. For example, the developer must conduct additional seabed surveys to ensure that submerged archaeological resources are protected prior to bottom-disturbing activities.

“After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project,” Salazar said. “With this decision, we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future and ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility.”