By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The U.S. will soon join Europe in drawing electricity from off-shore wind power. Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the first off-shore wind project in the U.S., the proposed Cape Wind installation planned for Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Nysted Offshore Wind in Denmark (Photo: Cape Associates.)

Nysted Offshore Wind in Denmark (Photo: Cape Associates.)

Wind advocates and environmentalists were thrilled that the project, nearly a decade in the making, will be built. It had faced opposition from some residents, including Kennedy family members, concerned about how the wind farm will affect views. Recently, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation had recommended rejection of the project.

But Salazar said that a careful analysis had shown the benefits outweigh the concerns.

“With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our Nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region,” he said in announcing the approval in Boston.

The American Wind Energy Association, which represents wind producers and affiliated industries, responded that the decision could be an impetus for the U.S. wind businesses.

“Such forward-thinking decisions are necessary for the U.S. to realize the many environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind,” said American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode.

As the first U.S. offshore wind installation, Cape Wind will be precedent setting. But it will benefit from two decades of offshore wind development in Europe, Bode said.

“In fact, American manufacturers have announced plans to build factories in Europe to service the robust offshore wind industry there. With policy support in the America we can incent(ivize) that new manufacturing sector to build here,’’ Bode said.

Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC, also praised Salazar for green lighting the project.

“The United States can be a world leader on clean energy, and offshore wind power has enormous potential to help us get there,” Beinecke said. “This is a major victory for America’s clean energy future – and will help ramp up the U.S. offshore wind industry.”

“I do think this is a landmark decision,” said Katherine Kennedy, NRDC counsel on air and energy. The launch for American offshore wind comes just in time, she said, as Europe, China and Japan moving ahead with their own offshore wind programs.

“We hope this opens the floodgates for many more (U.S.) offshore wind projects,” said Kennedy, who worked on behalf of the NRDC to help drive Cape Wind forward and develop in a way that was sensitive to marine life.

As the project moves into production, she said, “people will learn that turbines can coexist with nature and coastal communities,” providing an boost to the next proposed offshore projects in Delaware, Rhode Island and the Great Lakes.

Cape Wind needed federal approval to move ahead with the installation, which will be located about five miles off shore in Nantucket Sound and is projected to supply enough electricity for about 400,000 residents in the region. The project will include 130 turbines to produce 420 megawatts of power.

Last week, the wind industry association in Great Britain announced that it had reached 1 gigawatt of power from offshore wind as a new facility began operating. The UK is the world leader in the offshore wind sector with installed wind farms providing energy for 700,000 homes, the  industry group Renewable UK (formerly BWEA) reported.

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