By Darrell Delamaide
The Obama administration approved the controversial Cape Wind project, which calls for a wind farm of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound and will be the first offshore wind project in the country.
The announcement Wednesday was not a complete surprise after President Barack Obama on Tuesday toured the factory in Iowa that will supply the blades for the Cape Wind turbines.
But it is sure to generate more controversy as opposition was voiced by everyone from environmental groups to Native American tribes to Cape Cod residents, who are disturbed at the prospect that they will see the wind turbines as specks on the horizon. The turbines will be five miles from shore at their closest point, and 14 miles at their most distant.
The late Sen. Edward Kennedy opposed the project because the turbines will be visible from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, however, welcomed the project and was present at the Boston announcement of the federal government approval. The state wants to have 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it clear that the decision is final and that the administration is confident it can withstand the court challenges that are sure to come. The project has been under review for nearly 10 years.
There are about a dozen other offshore projects being contemplated, most of them off the Eastern seaboard north of Chesapeake Bay. A number of northern European countries are already operating offshore wind farms in the north Atlantic.
The Cape Wind farm is expected to begin generating electricity by the end of 2012, pending the outcome of the legal challenges. It will provide sufficient electricity for three-quarters of the 225,000 residents of Cape Cod.
An attempt to block the project by the American Council on Historical Preservation, which cited the historical value of the Kennedy compound and other sites on the Cape, was opposed by Patrick and governors from Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Maryland.
Environmentalists oppose the project because it interferes with habitats of numerous marine animals and birds, and because of its visual impact on the scenery.
Cape Wind president Jim Gordon, however, said that the example of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after an offshore rig collapsed into the sea last week shows that alternative is a worse environmental hazard.
Disclosure: No positions