Where the Wind Blows

The first offshore wind park in the United States off Cape Cod would cause little harm to the environment, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released by the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday. Instead, it would reduce air pollution and energy prices, without causing problems for aircraft, boats, birds or fish, the report projects.

The Cape Wind company plans to erect 130 wind turbines, with a total maximum output of 420 megawatts on Horseshoe Shoal, five miles off the Cape Cod shore in Massachusetts. In average conditions the wind park will produce enough electricity to power three-quarters of the Cape and Islands with clean, renewable energy, the company says.

The 3,800-page DEIS report is the product of three years of scientific, environmental and economic analysis and includes the input of 17 federal and state cooperating agencies as well as public comments.

Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, was delighted with the environmental impact statement. "The release of this report represents a notable victory for an informed public dialogue during the permitting process, given the sustained campaign by project opponents to keep this report from ever seeing the light of day," he said.

An opponent group, Windstop.org, warns that the view from every beach on the Cape "will be destroyed by the steel forest the size of the island of Manhattan, New York."

The DEIS acknowledges that the turbines will be visible from areas of the shoreline and from other areas of Nantucket Sound.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound says the Sound is a "rich ecological resource area that qualifies for and deserves protected status." A power plant in the midst of this sensitive ecosystem could degrade or destroy vital habitat for birds, fish and marine mammals, and pose a serious threat to the near-shore fishing industry.

"The wind energy plant is an expansive industrial complex of 130 wind turbines, each 417 feet tall, which will cause visual, noise and light pollution, both by day and by night," the Alliance says.

The wind farm opponents warn that a 10-story-tall offshore transformer station Cape Wind plans to install would expose the beaches of Cape Cod to the enviromental impact of a possible transformer station fire, leak, spill or explosion.

Several major environmental organizations back the wind farm. The Conservation Law Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace USA, HeathLink and Cape Clean Air have all opposed attempts to halt review of the project. The release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement follows two positive reports from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board and the U.S.Department of Energy, which also found that the Cape Wind project would produce energy, environmental and economic benefits for the region.

"Natural gas and oil prices have reached record heights; the Cape Wind DEIS is a timely reminder that we can take steps to fight back. Harnessing wind power will help propel us toward a healthier environment and increased energy security and independence," Gordon said.

Opponents rely on the statement of a retired U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot who is a current professional pilot on Cape Cod. "I view the proposed wind farm as an extreme hazard to aviation, " Lt. Cmdr. William H. Rypka wrote in a letter to the editor of the Cape Cod Times. Fog limits visibility to zero on some days, Rypka warned, which would increase the risk of a collision between an aircraft and a wind turbine. "I truly believe in alternative energy, but this is not the proper site for it," he wrote.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' DEIS states that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Determination of No Hazard to air Navigation regarding Cape Wind. Specifically, the FAA found that Cape Wind would have no adverse impact upon: air navigation, communications, radar, control system facilities, air traffic operations enroute through Nantucket Sound under VFR conditions, air traffic operations inbound, outbound, or enroute through the Nantucket Sound airspace under IFR conditions.

In other findings, the DEIS says energy produced by Cape Wind will displace an equivalent amount of energy that would otherwise have been needed from more expensive fossil fuel sources, lowering the cost of electricity on the New England spot market for all consumers.

The wind farm would reduce the cost of compliance with the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards for Massachusetts electricity consumers and would help reduce the region's dependency on foreign oil. The manufacturing, construction, and operation of Cape Wind would create 600 to 1,000 new jobs during the construction period and 154 permanent jobs. The DEIS projected $21.8 million in addition economic output each year; $10.2 million in value added; and, nearly $7 million in labor income.

According to the United States Department of Energy, Cape Wind would also have economic benefits at the national level on the U.S. economy in the range of $1.5 to $2.0 billion.

There is no expected adverse impact upon local real estate prices or tourism. Cape Wind will likely have a negligible effect on the use of recreational resources and a positive effect on tourism in general for Cape Cod and the Islands. It is conceivable that the additional tourist activity could result in an increase in other recreational activities in the area.

Cape Wind could reduce the amount of regional air pollution and mercury emissions, ozone and acid rain. The wind farm would reduce greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel plants and would help to stem global warming. The DEIS estimates that Cape Wind would offset approximately one million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide annually.

The spacing of the wind turbines at .34 nautical mile by .54 nautical mile from each other would allow those vessels not restricted by depth to pass easily between the wind turbines. The risk of a vessel colliding with a wind turbine is low, given the wind park's location away from typical vessel routes, the small diameter of the towers, and the spacing between the wind turbines, the DEIS found.

Temporary avoidance behavior in marine mammals and sea turtles in the project area is expected during project construction, similar to avoidance behavior observed during heavy pleasure boat use, ferry traffic or heavy fishing activity.

Underwater sound levels during construction at and beyond the 500 meter safety radius are below the level suggested by federal fisheries officials for preventing injury or harassment to marine mammals and sea turtles. Once operational, the presence of the wind farm is not expected to impact marine mammal and sea turtle movement and populations.

Detailed bird activity mapping in Nantucket Sound from radar, boat and aerial observations are provided in the DEIS. There is less bird activity over Horseshoe Shoal than in many other areas of Nantucket Sound. The estimated small number of birds killed by wind turbines is unlikely to cause bird population declines, the report says.

Two federally listed bird species – the endangered roseate tern and the threatened piping plover – were evaluated to determine if Cape Wind is likely to result in adverse impacts to these species. Population modeling and analysis of potential impacts show that it is unlikely that biologically significant risks to these two avian species could result from the construction/decommissioning or operation/maintenance of the turbines.

The wind farm is not anticipated to have substantial impacts on current commercial fishing, since Cape Wind will not request any restrictions on fishing during operations. The electric cables will be buried at a minimum depth of six feet, said the company.

The presence of the turbine foundations may enhance recreational fishing for certain species such as Atlantic cod, black sea bass and scup, Cape Wind says. Given that no substantial adverse impacts to finfish and commercial/recreational fishing are anticipated, no net change in the socioeconomic condition of the fishing industry on the Cape and Islands is expected as a result of the wind park, according to the DEIS.

Noise is not projected to be a problem in the DEIS. Boaters approaching Horseshoe Shoal will hear no noise when the turbines are operating. Boaters traveling within Horseshoe Shoal may hear wind turbine noise depending on their location, weather conditions, and on the amount of noise coming from their own boat.

Seventeen sites were evaluated in New England for wind power, eight upland locations and nine offshore locations. Through the preliminary screening of the 17 sites, six sites were selected for additional environmental review and comparison. Horseshoe Shoal was shown to be technically, environmentally and economically preferable to other alternative sites.

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