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Feds issue last environmental survey for delayed Cape Wind offshore wind farm

Federal regulators have issued a final supplement to an earlier environmental impact statement in favor of Cape Wind Associates' planned 468-MW Nantucket Sound Offshore Wind Farm (Cape Wind) near the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, on Aug. 4 issued the supplement for the long delayed Cape Wind project, as required by a July 2016 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

After six years of litigation challenging the project, the three judge court panel found a 2009 BOEM EIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and ordered the agency to further evaluate whether the seafloor could support the project's 130 wind turbines. As suggested by the court, the BOEM considered Cape Wind's own geological surveys from 2012 in its latest assessment.

"The final supplemental environmental impact statement has affirmed that Cape Wind conducted its geo-technical program in accordance with all regulations and it's validated that the seafloor will support the turbines," said Cape Wind Associates President Jim Gordon in an interview.

Cape Wind expects BOEM to soon issue a final NEPA decision, said Gordon, which is needed before any steel can be put in the water for the project that already has an approved construction and operating plan. "This is probably the most advanced utility-scale offshore wind project in the country," said Gordon.

A BOEM-approved two-year suspension of construction activities, as requested by Cape Wind until litigation subsided, expired on July 24. Gordon said Cape Wind expects the remaining appeals to the project's permitting to be resolved soon.

The appeals "have only served as delaying tactics by a small group of opponents that don't want to see wind turbines six miles from their homes," said Gordon. According to Cape Wind's website, the turbines would appear one-half-inch above the horizon from the closest beach and will stand 258 feet above the surface of the water.

The issuing of the final supplement coincides with Massachusetts' solicitation of 1,600-MW of offshore wind by August 2027, as mandated by an August 2016 law. Eligibility restrictions for project bids singularly barred Cape Wind from bidding for the 15- to 20-year contracts under the mandate.

"Being excluded from the Massachusetts offshore wind bidding, just serves to suppress competition but there are many wind and renewable energy projects that have obtained power purchase agreements from corporate, institutional and military users," said Gordon. He suggested the Nantucket Sound project could be able to do the same.

First proposed in 2001, the Cape Wind project was slated to sell its electricity to Eversource Energy and National Grid plc until the two utilities terminated their contracts in early 2015 as a result of delays brought on by lawsuits and regulatory challenges over the environment and migratory birds.

Since then, offshore wind in the U.S. has taken off. The first commercial offshore wind farm went online in December 2016 off of Rhode Island, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January 2017 the goal to develop 2,400 MW of offshore projects 30 miles off of Long Island by 2030. In June, Massachusetts also issued a request for proposals for between 400 MW and 800 MW of offshore wind capacity.

"We look forward to moving the project forward and contributing to the development of offshore wind in the United States," said Gordon. "We were the voice in the wilderness for over a decade and we're pleased that there are so many companies that are taking an interest in developing and constructing offshore wind farms."

Cape Wind Associates is a subsidiary of Energy Management Inc.