Cape Wind closing in on final regulatory ruling

Cape Wind, a Massachusetts offshore wind farm under review for seven years, finished what was likely its final public hearing this week and expects to receive the last of its major regulatory decisions before year's end.

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The 130-turbine project awaits a decision from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board on a composite of state permits and a final report from the Minerals Management Service on its federal environmental impact statement.
 
"The big picture is that we expect by end of winter to conclude federal and state permitting. If we are successful, we would expect to be at that time the first permitted wind offshore farm in the United States," said Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind spokesman.
 
Project proponents are optimistic that Cape Wind will win the approvals, particularly since the siting board already okayed the project once before, and MMS issued a favorable draft EIS in January. 
 
"We are getting to the end of this. We see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, a Massachusetts pro-renewables group.
 
Located in Nantucket Sound, the project has faced strong opposition over the years from wealthy Cape Cod homeowners, some of whom will see the turbines from their seaside homes.
 
At the same time, support for the project has been strong in public polling, most recently in a non-binding referendum put on Tuesday's ballot by a wind supporter and approved in 11 towns south of Boston. Eighty-seven percent of the voters said they would support state representatives from their district voting in favor of Cape Wind and other possible onshore and offshore wind power developments.  No legislative  vote, however, is required for Cape Wind to complete permitting. Hill said that the vote closely mirrors public polls on Cape Wind that indicate more than 80% of Massachusetts residents support the project. She said the referendum vote was not surprising and is unlikely to influence political leaders since they are already aware of the public support.
 
Senator John Kerry and Representative Edward Markey, both Democrats, are awaiting the final report from MMS before taking a position. Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative William Delahunt, also Democrats, oppose the project. Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, supports Cape Wind.
 
Wednesday's public hearing on Cape Wind, held in the town of West Yarmouth, was expected to be the last required, Rodgers said. Held by the Department of Environmental Protection, the meeting was lightly attended compared with earlier public sessions with only about 45 in the room, according to Hill. Eighteen spoke in favor of the project and 15 against it. The DEP is reviewing a transmission line that connects the project to the electric grid.
 
Meanwhile, testimony is scheduled to begin November 12 before the siting board on consolidating all remaining local and state permits into one composite approval. The permits consider only Cape Wind's transmission lines, not the turbines, since they are in federal waters.
 
While Cape Wind may finish its regulatory review soon, it still is likely to face  litigation from project opponents. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has already opposed the project several times in court and has vowed to do so again. The organization  posted a statement on its web site Wednesday urging President-elect Barack Obama to request that a moratorium be placed on MMS review of Cape Wind.
 
"In the absence of a moratorium, the outgoing Bush Administration is likely to make an 11th hour effort to permit the project, just as it plans to issue dubious 'midnight regulations' prior to leaving office in January," the group said.   -- Lisa Wood