Cape Wind has been churning controversy in Massachusetts for nine years. Its supporters say it will eventually supply most of the power for Cape Cod's 225,000 residents. The turbines will stand 400 feet tall and be visible from the shores of Hyannis. And, they insist, it will create jobs and a renewable domestic energy source.
But opponents say the project will endanger wildlife and air and sea traffic, while blocking historic views. The late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy fought Cape Wind alongside many other residents, fishermen and two Wampanoag Indian tribes.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stepped in today with a green light for the project. "I'm here in Boston today to announce that I am approving the Cape Wind Project," he said. "I am approving the Cape Wind project with modifications to the proposed project that will help protect the historic, cultural and environmental resources of Nantucket Sound."
Here in Maine, supporters of offshore wind welcomed the news. "Winds offshore are much stronger than they are onshore, so it's great news for the country," says Habib Dagher, director of UMaine's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center who is working on the state's offshore wind development efforts.
Dagher says he's glad to see that the Obama administration is following through on its vocalized support of offshore wind, and he points out that Cape Wind is very different from what Maine is exploring.
"The Cape Wind project is in very shallow waters compared to Maine waters," Dagher says. "In addition to that, our plan in Maine is to go 20 miles plus offshore, so that these structures are beyond the horizon, you can't see them from shore. The Cape Wind project structures will be visible from shore. The Cape Wind project is fix-based to the sea bed because you have shallow waters. Maine's structures that we're looking at are floating. They'll float like a boat will float."
By going farther offshore, Maine can capture stronger and steadier wind, Dagher says, and there's less interference with fisheries and other wildlife. He hopes that by September the Maine Public Utilities Commission will issue a request for proposals to build the state's first offshore floating wind farm.
"Europe is 20 years ahead of the United States, the first European offshore wind farm was built almost 20 years ago," Dagher says. "It's wonderful that we'll have a farm in the U.S. potentially by 2012. That will help not only Massachusetts move forward but Maine and others move forward as well. So Maine is not too far behind here."
Some Mainers, especially coastal residents, are still evaluating offshore wind, just as the Conservation Law Foundation did for Cape Wind. The foundation is a regional environmental organization that was an intervenor in the Cape Wind case.
"As with many projects, we had some suggestions on how to improve the project -- I think that Cape Wind has provided a lot of lessons for the right way to go about projects," says Sean Mahoney, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation. "This was a long process. We hope that the federal government and the state government and those who are proposing these projects have learned from the Cape Wind experience, and that moving forward we're able to move with more efficiency to a resolution as to whether or not a project is or is not appropriate."
One group in Maine is keeping a close eye on offshore wind development. That's the Penobscot Bay Watch in Rockland. Executive Director Ron Huber says he's disappointed in the Cape Wind decision.
"I think relatively inshore wind farms are inappropropriate usage of coastal waters," Huber says. "We're going to have an opportunity to study and see what impacts this actually does have on the close environment and economies that many people are concerned about when it comes to ocean wind farming."
But Huber says he thinks Maine is moving in a "wiser direction" by promoting wind farms 20 miles offshore. "This is being done to ensure that a coastal economy that the state has is not harmed by something that's supposed to help it," he says. "I have disagreements with the University of Maine and the Bureau of Parks and Lands and others about where the best test areas for deep water wind farming is. I'm quite in agreement with Dr. Dagher and others that well-offshore deepwater wind farming can be very appropriate for us."
Down in Massachusetts, opponents of Cape Wind who want the project moved out of the sound are expected to continue to fight the project in court. Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound says she can't stand by while public lands and "marred forever.''
Other groups who say they'll sue include the Animal Welfare Institute and the Industrial Wind Action Group. A Wampanoag tribe also is expected to sue.