WASHINGTON – Plans for the nation’s first offshore wind farm got a boost Friday when a federal agency rejected high-profile opponents’ arguments that the giant turbines would damage the environment off Cape Cod.
A bitter fight over the proposed wind farm has lasted more than seven years. Its foes, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., argue the wind farm would kill birds and endanger sea life, and harm the area’s tourism and fishing industries.
But the new Minerals Management Service report said developer Cape Wind Associates’ plans pose no major environmental problems.
The new Obama administration will decide the project’s fate.
Supporters say the project will provide cheaper energy, reduce pollution and create green jobs. Various federal and state agencies have been reviewing the proposal for 130 windmills across 25 miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound since 2001.
Cape Wind has pitted two of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts against each other. Both are strong Obama supporters.
Kennedy, whose family’s Hyannis Port compound would have a clear view of the farm, has tried to derail the project in Congress, citing risks to fishing, navigation, aviation and the sanctuary of Nantucket Sound.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a close Obama ally who wants his state to be a leader in alternative energy, has been a strong Cape Wind backer.
The developers, who have estimated the project’s cost at $1.2 billion, hope the wind farm will be operational by the end of 2011.
The turbines would stand 440 feet above sea level when the tallest blades are pointing straight up.
Opponents vowed to continue their fight, accusing the government of overlooking environmental, safety and other problems as officials rushed to approve the project before the Bush administration departs.
Noting the Federal Aviation Administration is still reviewing the project and that the Interior Department’s inspector general is looking into how the Minerals Management Service handled Cape Wind, Kennedy said the project would face tough sledding.
“I do not believe that this action by the Interior Department will be sustained,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Both sides predict legal challenges whatever the government decides.