Propelling Cape Wind

 EDITORIAL - April 2, 2007

Just like a windmill's blades, the Cape Wind debate continues to go round and round. But on Friday, the project became a little closer to finally being constructed.

In an important step toward approval, Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles signed off on the project. Now, developers can apply for the necessary state construction permits.

Some of Cape Wind's critics claim the alternative-energy project will have negative environmental impacts. They worry about potential oil spills, a detriment to the fishing industry and the area's tern population. But if Environmental Affairs has agreed to the project, it's unlikely Mother Nature will take a big hit.

And when President Bush, a global-warming denier, acknowledges the presence of climate change, it is clear something must be done to control the harmful effects of pollution. Wind energy could be a viable solution. The Final Environmental Impact Report predicts the project will annually offset 802 tons of sulfur dioxide, 497 tons of nitrous oxide and more than 730,000 tons of carbon dioxide in New England. These numbers equate to removing 175,000 cars from the road -- surely a plus.

Building windmills in the Nantucket Sound obviously has some environmental costs. But the developers have made a conscious effort to counter these costs. In a voluntary move, Cape Wind managers promised to pay $780,000 toward the restoration of Bird Island. They will also provide $4.2 million annually toward preserving wildlife and nature reserves on Cape Cod and the surrounding islands.

Still, some of the protesters' concerns are valid. The ferries that carry $3 million passengers a year will have to adjust their routes to navigate around the 130 windmills. Some worry this could be an accident waiting to happen. Radar may also be affected, potentially having disastrous implications for air traffic.

Because of these concerns, opponents argue Cape Wind should be built at a different location. But many upset citizens are Cape Cod residents who seem to be more concerned about their disrupted oceanfront views than the actual environmental harms from the project.

And when asked where the windmills should be erected, no one has been able to offer a sound answer. Activist groups such as Hyannis-based Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said it would take more time and an expensive analysis to establish an alternative area for the project.

But deliberations have been going on since 2001. Bowles's signature indicates the project coincides with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act's demands. And if the group is satisfied with Cape Wind's environmental efforts and the information that managers have provided, then construction must not be delayed further. Friday's announcement should be the next step toward completion, not a dead end.

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