Cape Wind’s lease of 46 square miles of Nantucket Sound was reaffirmed this week, even though the project had appeared dead in the water for several years. The decision, filed last Wednesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, states that Cape Wind, which proposes to build 130 wind turbines in Horseshoe Shoal, has met the requirements to show that it has taken “all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm.”
The project has been the subject of many legal battles and utilities had canceled their contracts to purchase electricity generated from the turbines.
The approval came despite dozens of letters from political leaders, municipalities, and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
“While we certainly support renewable energy, Cape Wind is the wrong project in the wrong location,” stated a letter signed by the entire Cape and Islands legislative delegation. “It has long been mired in controversy because of its conflicted location in the center of Nantucket Sound, as well as the high costs associated with this now outdated project.”
The town of Edgartown, fisheries groups, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) were among the stakeholders who opposed the lease extension, Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, told The Times.
The alliance had called on the Interior Department to cancel the lease, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found the request to be outside the scope of its review. “We believe they inappropriately constrained their review,” Ms. Parker said.
In all, the Interior Department received 581 submissions on the proposed lease extension. It considered only those that were within the scope of looking at issues like “bedrock integrity” and “moving boulders and boulder mitigation,” among other things, according to the decision.
Cape Wind remains a threat, Parker said. “It’s an ongoing threat as long as Cape Wind holds a long-term lease. It’s valid through 2041, which means Cape Wind could sell the rights to another developer.” The project’s social media feeds had been dormant since 2015, which is about the time that its power purchase agreements ended.
Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind, could not be reached for comment. In August, he told The Times that the project remains viable and was awaiting the lease decision.
The Interior Department wrote that its “decision was reached after careful and thorough analysis of the sea floor and its ability to support the wind turbine generators presented.” Cape Wind proposes to use “technology that is currently available, technically feasible, and economically viable, that can interconnect with and deliver electricity to the New England Power Pool.” Without the wind energy, the region’s reliance of fossil fuel plants will grow, the decision concluded.
Ms. Parker said the federal review should have included projects that have emerged since Cape Wind originally received its lease in 2010. Leases have been issued to three other companies for offshore wind projects 15 miles off the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard, for example.
“In 2009, they were few and far between,” she said. “Now there are a number alternative sites leased, and they should have looked at those and the cumulative impact of those projects.”
Ms. Parker could not say what action her group might take. “We need to evaluate next steps,” she said. “Our goal is to have the lease ended, and we’ll take any necessary steps to do that.”