A staff report released by the Cape Cod Commission this week gives a decidedly mixed review to the controversial plan by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal. The report finds that Cape Wind’s plan to connect the turbines to land in West Yarmouth through underwater electricity transmission lines meets only eight of 32 performance standards set by the commission.
In general, the staff report concluded, a good deal more information is needed in order to satisfy the requirements of the commission.
The report comes at a critical juncture for Cape Wind, which awaits the release of a draft environmental impact statement from the federal Minerals Management Service, expected by the end of this month. The Cape Cod Commission, which is reviewing the electricity connection portion of the project, opened a public hearing on the plan last night. The project qualifies as a development of regional impact (DRI) and must pass the same benefits and detriments test that is familiar to Island residents who follow the workings of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The Cape Cod Commission was modeled after the Vineyard commission.
The 30-page Cape commission staff report was released on Tuesday this week. The report focuses on the project’s consistency with the commission’s minimum performance standards under its regional policy plan.
The commission has power over the portion of the project that lies within the three-mile limit, considered state waters. The plan calls for two submarine cables to carry electricity from the offshore turbines over a distance of about 7.6 miles through Nantucket Sound and Lewis Bay, making landfall in West Yarmouth. Once it reaches land the transmission line will run for another four miles under public streets to an NSTAR easement, where it will run for another 1.9 miles to the Barnstable switching station. At the switching station the cable will connect with NSTAR transmission lines to deliver electricity from the Cape Wind turbines.
The staff report, which is posted on the Cape Cod Commission Web site, includes a detailed technical description of the methods for installing the cables, both underwater and on land, and maps showing the routes for the cables.
Among other things the report finds that the underwater cable project fails to meet six of 32 standards, including environmental standards that call for protection of the marine environment — shellfish and eelgrass beds in particular — which will be disturbed during cable construction. Hurricane flood zone safety is another area of concern.
The commission staff report finds that the project meets eight of the standards but more information is needed in some 18 areas that include economic impacts, hazardous waste generation, impacts on public water supplies and preparation of an emergency response plan.
“Unable to determine at this time,” is the phrase that begins each section of the report where more information is needed.
Boston-based Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon has been working his way through a complicated regulatory gauntlet since he first filed plans to build an array of wind turbines on 25 square miles on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound almost six years ago. If approved, the project is expected to generate three quarters of the electricity needs of the Cape and Islands.
The project is subject to both state and federal review by a number of agencies; some have already signed off on the project and some have not. It has also become something of a political football, with groups both for and against the project — including Clean Power Now (a supporter) and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (an opponent) — devoting large amounts of effort to their respective causes. An advertising campaign that includes radio, television and the print press was launched on both sides late this summer. The project has seen fierce opposition on Nantucket and on some parts of the Cape, while on the Vineyard opinions are more mixed or even neutral. An alternative energy initiative is steadily gaining steam on the Vineyard, but much of the attention is focused on local projects, including wind, solar and thermal energy.
In April the state secretary of environmental affairs ruled that Cape Wind had met its requirements at the state level.
On the federal level, at the outset the Cape Wind project was regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers, but following the signing of the federal Energy Policy Act in August of 2005, the Minerals Management Service was named the lead agency in the regulatory review. Minerals management decided to prepare its own environment impact review; this is the report expected later this month.
The DRI application with the Cape Cod Commission dates to November of 2001, but the statutory time frame did not kick in until March of this year when other state and federal environmental hurdles had been cleared. Absent an extension, which Cape Wind spokesmen have said they will not agree to, the commission must make a decision on the project by October.