The First Offshore Wind Farm in the U.S.

One hundred and thirty horizontal-axis wind turbines, each 285 feet tall, sited 5 miles off the coast of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod. Covering an expansive 24 square mile area, the turbines are anticipated to generate an average of 170 megawatts of electricity (and up to 454 megawatts at peak capacity), producing 75% of the average electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island (roughly 420,000 homes).

Welcome to the Cape Wind project, which – if it moves ahead on schedule – is slated to be the first offshore wind energy project constructed in United States coastal waters.

Unlike most of the United States, where electricity is more commonly produced from coal (as opposed to oil), nearly half of Cape Cod’s electricity comes from the Canal Power Plant in Sandwich, MA, where it is generated by burning bunker oil and natural gas. Thus, the Cape Wind project would offset nearly one million tons of carbon dioxide and eliminate the need for 113 million gallons of oil annually.

Cape Wind was proposed by Cape Wind Associates, a private developer headed up by Jim Gordon, and is expected to cost between $1 and 2 billion dollars. The project has stimulated significant local controversy and its construction is actively being fought by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. However, in May of 2009, the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board issued the project a “Super Permit,” effectively overriding the judgments of local government oversight commissions and negating the need for further approval. Two weeks ago the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that the state does, in fact, have the power to overrule community opposition.

Due to its offshore location, the project must also contend with federal jurisdiction. Cape Wind first filed for a federal permit in 2001, appealing to the US Army Corps of Engineers, but the approval process was delayed because of controversies concerning the Army Corps’s Environmental Impact Statement, a 2005 transfer of oversight power from the Army Corps to the Department of the Interior (specifically the Minerals Management Service), and Nantucket Sound’s status as a nationally recognized historic place. Despite 10 years of debates and delays, final approval was, in fact, granted last April.

All that’s left for Cape Wind Associates to do is, well, finance and build the thing…and find customers for the clean energy they aim to produce.

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts that will look at opposition to the Cape Wind project.