The Moore American

Features

July 26, 2012

U.S. prepares to lease huge tracts off East Coast for windmill farms

(Continued)

"We're really looking at everything from A to Z," said Mary Boatman, environmental studies chief at BOEM's office of renewable energy programs.

BOEM is also taking pains to protect man-made resources.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard sued Cape Wind, claiming the facility would destroy submerged cultural tribal resources. The turbines, the suit said, would sit on what was once exposed land used by the tribe many thousands of years ago.

To avoid similar conflicts, BOEM is inventorying possible submerged archaeological sites throughout the once-dry Atlantic continental shelf — an effort that draws from sources as varied as paleo-climate models to records of mastodon and mammoth bones pulled up by commercial scallop dredgers.

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It will probably take several years for developers to start building wind farms in the newly leased areas. So despite its trials, Cape Wind may still be the first offshore wind farm built in the country.

It is the only such federally permitted facility and has secured power purchase agreements with Massachusetts' major utilities. One of those contracts expires if developers fail to start construction by 2016.

But the project still faces legal challenges, perhaps most seriously from a federal appeals court. In that case, the Koch-funded alliance had challenged a Federal Aviation Administration ruling that the wind farm would not pose a threat to pilots. The alliance obtained internal documents in which FAA employees said they felt political pressure to make the ruling; they were not specific about who made them feel pressured.

If future projects avoid similar legal hurdles, offshore wind farms still face head winds from competition with cheap and plentiful natural gas. Moreover, federal investment tax credits for wind power are set to expire at the end of the year. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would not renew the tax credits if elected.

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