Wind farm backers, opponents tussle over 'safe separation'

Maritime company president questions congressman's interest in project
Public meeting slated for Thursday, Dec. 18 on navigation issue

By James Kinsella

The head of a Rhode Island maritime information company has questioned the interest of a congressional committee chairman in the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound.

Moses Calouro, president of Maritime Information Systems Inc. of Warren, R.I., further said that the issue of a "safe separation" between the proposed wind farm and maritime traffic is a red herring that nonetheless continues to be put forward by opponents of the wind farm.

Calouro is raising the concerns as the Coast Guard prepares to hold a public meeting on its preliminary findings on the wind farm's potential effects on navigation.

The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 18 at the Sea Crest Resort in North Falmouth.

Cape Wind is a 130-turbine, 468-megawatt project proposed for construction in federal waters on Horseshoe Shoal south of Cape Cod.

The Coast Guard is holding Thursday's meeting in response to a Dec. 9 letter from U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the funding of the Coast Guard.

Also in response to that letter, the Coast Guard has agreed to delay issuing its final report until Jan. 15.

The Coast Guard recently had planned to issue its recommendation on Monday, Dec. 15, sooner than originally planned.
The service's preliminary findings were to allow the wind farm to go forward as planned with various mitigations, including lights and horns.
The Guard had moved up the release date at the request of the federal Minerals Management Service, the lead federal permitting agency for Cape Wind.

Supporters of the Cape Wind, such as Clean Power Now, a Hyannis-based non-profit organization, contend that Oberstar is reacting to political pressure from prominent legislators such as U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., whose home is in Hyannis Port and who has long opposed Cape Wind.

In an e-mail response to a query by Colouro, Mary Kerr, spokeswoman for the congressional committee, said Oberstar isn't advocating for or against the project, and hasn't taken a stand on its merits.
Calouro said Oberstar is scrutinizing Cape Wind when far more serious issues continue to involve the Coast Guard, such as Deepwater, a modernization program that has gone drastically wrong.

But Kerr said the congressman now is just asking for more time for the public to examine Cape Wind's possible effects on navigation.

In fact, Kerr said, Cape Wind isn't a priority for Oberstar and the committee.

"We've sent two letters," she said. "We send lots of letters."

Kerr said the committee has devoted much more time responding to e-mailed queries from Calouro than examining the Cape Wind issue.

Along the same lines, she said the committee hasn't held hearings on Cape Wind, or introduced legislation concerning the project.

Oberstar, however, did raise the possibility of hearings in his Dec. 9 letter to Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, "given that any action taken on this project will set a precedent for all future offshore renewable energy projects."

The congressman further raised the issue of separation between the proposed wind farm and shipping lanes in his Sept. 12 letter to the Coast Guard, specifically separation zones of 1 ½ to 2 miles in the United Kingdom.

But Colouro and Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind, question whether any specific separation zones are specified in the United Kingdom.

The issue of how much separation is needed between the wind farm and nearby shipping channels carries real import for the Cape Wind project.

Cape Wind Associates LLC, the company that has proposed the project, several years ago reduced the number of proposed turbines but increased their size.

One question is how many turbines, if any, the company can sacrifice while keeping the wind farm economically viable.

That's why Richard Elrick, vice president of Clean Power Now, was glad to hear the Coast Guard didn't recommend the removal of any turbines to ensure maritime safety.

But the Coast Guard recommendation, until finalized, remains a wild card in a series of permitting decisions that keep going Cape Wind's way.

Observers anticipate that the Minerals Management Service will approve Cape Wind. Odds also are that the state Energy Facilities Siting Board will grant a composite permit that overrules the Cape Cod Commission's rejection of the project, and grants a number of remaining state and local permits en masse.

Obtaining necessary federal, state and local permits clears the way for Cape Wind to begin construction, although opponents said they plan to stop the project through legal appeals.

Colouro said the experience of European nations, which unlike the United States actually have wind turbine projects operating off their shores, shows the separation issue isn't a large one.

For example, he said the United Kingdom's Maritime and Coastguard Agency has approved a wind farm west of Duddon Sands, even though eight large passenger vessels pass by the site on a daily basis.

Rodgers gives the example of the Nysted offshore wind farm in Denmark, which is one nautical mile from a major international shipping lane that has 60,000 vessels passing by the wind farm each year, and has yet to have an accident.

In fact, he said, wind farms have been operating offshore several European countries back to 1991, yet there has not yet been not been a single report of a boating or shipping accident involving them.

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