Monday, July 21, 2014

First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Wins Federal Funds, Courtroom Fights

Cape Wind has been using a data tower to capture information about air flows in the region for the last 10 years. (Credit: Cape Wind) Click to enlarge.
For over a decade, Cape Wind’s proposal to build a turbine farm off Cape Cod has generated excitement and opposition in large measures—but no power.  New federal funding and recent courtroom victories may soon change all that, and launch America’s offshore wind industry in earnest.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Programs Office has announced a conditional commitment to Cape Wind, a 130-turbine project slated for the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound.  The $150 million loan guarantee would support construction of the 360 megawatt (MW) wind farm and might finally help the bid to spin turbines above the waters of Nantucket Sound.

“I think a big significance of the DOE’s conditional guarantee is that it makes the U.S. government a participant in the financing of America’s first offshore wind farm,” said Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.  “That’s something that you see quite often in Europe, and I think it sends a message to other financial stakeholders about the confidence the government has in us.  After all, although it was different agencies the government also approved the project and issued us our lease.  We believe this commitment will help us to continue to attract additional commercial sector financial players.”

With commitments already in place for approximately 60 percent of Cape Wind’s $2.5 billion cost, Rodgers said Cape Wind expects financing to wrap up by year’s end.  Initial construction of the onshore cable route could also begin before the end of 2014, he added, if final project financing is completed this fall.  “With that schedule, as it stands now, ocean construction would begin in 2015 and we’d expect to commission at least a portion of the project and start producing electricity by the end of 2016, with the full project commissioned in 2017.”

Cape Wind has been fully permitted for several years.  Now the long lineup of legal challenges it has weathered, dozens of suits dating back to 2003, may finally be drawing towards a close as well.  In March four National Environmental Policy Act lawsuits brought by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the town of Barnstable, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) were decided resoundingly in favor of Cape Wind by United States District Judge Reggie Walton.  An appeal seems likely, but opponents of the project may finally be running low on further legal options.

DOE estimates that offshore winds near the nation’s coasts could provide a potential 4,000 GW of electricity—a staggering amount that’s four times today’s total nationwide generation capacity.  To date, all that power remains untapped.  If it comes online, Cape Wind would be a small operation in terms of the national grid but a large local player, able to provide some 75 percent of the electricity consumed on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Wins Federal Funds, Courtroom Fights

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