Four Questions For Barbara Hill

Federal, Friday Interviews, New England
Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now

1. Why did the Cape Wind permitting process take almost a decade?

Even though there were federal and state incentives promoting renewable projects, Cape Wind took the federal government by surprise in 2001 by proposing America's first offshore wind project.

By default the US Army Corps of Engineers became the lead federal agency and the learning curve was steep. They issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement in December 2004, provided the public an extended public comment period in addition to holding four public hearings in Massachusetts and were on track to issue a final EIS but in August of 2005 the Energy Policy Act changed the lead federal agency to the Department of Interior and the regulatory process and the time line for Cape Wind was affected.

Within the Energy Policy Act there was enabling legislation for the Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) to develop a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement which would serve to inform the regulatory framework for all other offshore wind proposals. In addition there was also a "saving's provision" which allowed the two projects at that time already under review (Cape Wind and the LIPA project) to continue on a parallel track since so much time and resources had gone into the permitting. Shortly thereafter the LIPA project was shelved and so Cape Wind became the only project to continue review under the savings provision.

In January of 2008 the MMS (now Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) issued its draft EIS, followed by a public comment period, and public hearings that ended in April of that same year. One year later the Final EIS was issued and not until April of 2010 was the Record of Decision announced giving the thumbs up for Cape Wind.

There were a number of factors contributing to the length of the permitting process: being the first offshore wind project proposed required a steep regulatory learning curve; changing the permitting process in mid stream; politics; and, over 15 legal challenges from opponents.

But in the end, after all the challenges and obstacles, Cape Wind has secured the necessary federal, state and local approvals, permits and decisions and can now move forward to actual steel in the ground and producing megawatts of clean renewable energy.

2. How has the Cape Wind experience set the stage for other offshore wind development?

The Cape Wind project proposal initiated the conversation about offshore wind energy in this country. Clearly there had to be a first project and absent a real project I don't believe that there would be the overarching regulatory framework in place for multiple projects to now move through the permitting process.

Before Cape Wind there was no real understanding in this country of the enormous potential of wind energy for producing clean renewable electricity off our coasts and in many cases, relatively near large population centers. Before Cape Wind there were only a handful of state and federal policies in place to drive this new clean energy industry. Also, the conversation that ensued over the past 9 years since the project was first proposed gave citizens the opportunity to begin to think about the way electricity is produced and the impacts of using fossil fuels. The question now isn't do you want a wind farm or not, the real question is, how do you want to generate electricity and what are the impacts of that choice.

Now that people are more informed about the significant public interest benefits that will be realized from the Cape Wind project, other projects more than likely will move through the regulatory review more efficiently and with more local support.

3. Last week, Ken Salazar announced a streamlined permitting process. What else can the federal government do to support or improve offshore wind permitting?

First, the policies and specific goals must be clearly articulated from the White House. If we could have a target established by the President of so many gigawatts produced and the time frame for deployment that would give a strong and clear signal that we are serious in this country about a robust sustainable offshore wind industry.

A report by The Environmental Law Institute has calculated that $70 billion in federal subsidies (our tax dollars) was given to the fossil fuel industry from 2002 - 2008. That is almost 7 times the amount of our tax dollars invested in renewable energy.

The US Department of Energy has issued Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States: A Strategic Work Plan for the United States Department of Energy, Fiscal Years 2011 - 2015. This work plan outlines efforts to overcome key barriers to the development and deployment of offshore wind technology including the relatively high cost, technical challenges and untested permitting requirements. The two critical objectives are to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy and reduce the timeline for deploying offshore wind energy. The federal government can make sure that the Department of Energy has the financial and staff resources to make sure this plan can begin and be carried out in full despite election cycles.

4. You held your annual meeting two weeks ago. What does the future hold for Clean Power Now - more offshore wind advocacy?

Since 2003, Clean Power Now has met every obstacle the opponents and entrenched interests have erected by fighting misinformation with facts, intervening in adjudicatory proceedings and subsequent appeals, testifying at hearings, submitting comments, educating, informing, and empowering citizens to speak out for clean energy for our environment, our economy and for our planet.

In supporting Cape Wind, the pioneer in the offshore wind industry, we have become pioneers ourselves. This is as much a victory for citizen participation as it is for clean energy. We are in this for the long haul. We intend to stay active in helping wherever we can as other communities and the industry face similar challenges to the ones we have faced over the past seven years here in Massachusetts.

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