Final approval for Cape Wind is stalled, aggravating developers of the Massachusetts offshore wind project and igniting concerns that the latest roadblock -- over American Indian ceremonies -- could jeopardize other ocean-based energy proposals. The 130-turbine project appeared to be sailing toward federal consent after the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service issued a supportive environmental report in January, about eight years after the pioneering project was announced. A decision could have come 30 days later.
...Meanwhile, the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and key lawmakers urged MMS to reject the tribes' request to designate Nantucket Sound a protected landmark. Ian Bowles, the state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a July letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that the request "is an attempt to block or further delay renewable energy development in Nantucket Sound."
If the tribes' request is granted, it could rattle the infant offshore wind industry in the United States, observers and participants say. The legal precedent could prevent or delay offshore projects up and down the East Coast. It also poses hazards to Massachusetts' efforts to zone specific areas of the ocean for renewable energy projects.
"It would have a huge chilling effect," said Reid of the Conservation Law Foundation. "That would effectively put the kibosh on offshore wind development at the same time Massachusetts is moving forward with an ocean management plan." The challenge comes as East Coast states are joining forces to rearrange the way the federal government looks at renewable energy. They want more money spent on a new underwater grid able to send offshore wind power to some of the nation's most populated coastlines.
Jim Gordon of Cape Wind Associates said it's "troubling" that the tribes are fighting a wind farm that could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to the rising seas that threaten their sacred coastal sites. "If the Wampanoags succeed, this will provide a serious obstacle for not only the offshore renewable energy industry but for many other local and national coastal and marine activities," he added.