I am writing to respond to last week’s Gazette editorial which faulted Cape Wind for filing a petition with the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board for relief from a denial of the Cape Cod Commission.
Cape Wind worked with the commission for six years. During that time the commission was provided with more information about the portions of the project in their jurisdiction (the transmission cables) than any regulatory body in Massachusetts has ever been provided for any proposed cable project.
Despite the ample time and voluminous information provided to the commission, they issued a procedural denial on Cape Wind’s application last year, claiming that they did not have enough information and that they could not complete their review within the time frame fixed by law. At the final commission meeting, commissioners made several statements about their purported concern for eelgrass beds on Nantucket Sound as an example as to why the commission was taking its action.
The eelgrass issue is revealing about the commission approach to its review of Cape Wind. In fact, Cape Wind’s plans clearly show that the proposed cable route avoids crossing eelgrass beds and that considerable mitigation is planned to minimize any possible impacts on an eelgrass bed closest to the cable route.
Compare this approach with the commission’s treatment of National Grid’s recent cable to Nantucket, using very similar installation methods and traveling near Cape Wind’s proposed cables underneath Nantucket Sound, a project already approved and completed. For the Nantucket cable, the commission waived its right to even review the project, despite the fact that the cable passed right through an eelgrass bed.
Further, the commission also submitted a comment letter to the lead state permitting agency recommending that no environmental impact report be prepared for the National Grid cable, despite calls from environmental groups that such a report was needed to assess impacts to eelgrass bed that was crossed and to devise more substantive ways to mitigate the damage.
The commission has yet to offer any credible explanation to reconcile the different approaches they took on these two similar cable projects.
After the commission vote to issue a procedural denial of Cape Wind, the Conservation Law Foundation issued a statement calling the vote unreasonable and unsupported by the record. Their staff attorney Susan Reid stated: “Unfortunately, a different standard was applied to what should have been a routine permit for an electric cable. At a time when we should be embracing renewable energy projects that will help curb global warming and reduce dependence on foreign oil, Cape Wind continues to face unreasonable hurdles.”
Following the commission action, Cape Wind followed the path established by Massachusetts law: it applied for a certificate of environmental impact and public interest with the energy facilities siting board. The Massachusetts legislature granted the siting board broad and comprehensive authority over approval of power plants and electric transmission lines to ensure electric reliability in the commonwealth, including the ability to resolve the matter when any local agency takes a position contrary to that of the board. In 2005 the board approved Cape Wind’s electrical cables, finding that the project would provide needed renewable energy, significant air quality improvements and reduced energy costs.
It has been a long road since Cape Wind filed its first permitting forms in November, 2001. The project has already undergone a more comprehensive regulatory review than any existing power generation source in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If Cape Wind is found to be in the public interest and emerges from its permitting process with the necessary approvals, we look forward to providing three quarters of the electricity used on the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket with the clean and inexhaustible winds of Horseshoe Shoal.
A resident of North Falmouth, Mr. Rodgers is communications director for Cape Wind.