Audubon Society supports Nantucket Sound wind farm

On the same day the federal government was sued for its opinion that the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm will not hurt endangered species, New England’s largest conservation organization released its most emphatic statement to date backing the project.

Massachusetts Audubon Society, which has long voiced conditional support for Cape Wind’s plan to build 130 wind turbines in the Sound, announced Friday that the government and the project’s developer have met a call the society issued in 2006 for more environmental data before the project is built.
Related Links

"We didn’t want to rely on data from the applicant. We didn’t want to rely on data from the government," said Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for Massachusetts Audubon. "We were extremely skeptical of this project."

The organization’s initial skepticism was allayed by more than three years of monitoring bird species on the Sound and a review of other findings, including from Europe, Clarke said.

As part of its so-called "Challenge Proposal Regarding the Cape Wind Energy Project" the Audubon Society requested new and additional avian studies, data collection and ongoing monitoring once the wind power project is built. Additional studies by the state, the Audubon Society and an adaptive management program built into a permit and lease for the project address these concerns, Clarke said.

Audubon officials also visited offshore wind farms in Denmark to get first-hand information on the effects of wind turbines in the ocean on migratory and other bird species, he said.

Audubon accused of bias

The data collected indicated that Cape Wind would not pose an ecologically significant threat to birds and associated marine habitat in the Sound, he said.

Opponents of Cape Wind argue that the wind turbines are a danger to endangered bird species such as the roseate tern and the piping plover and that the government failed to do enough to protect wildlife in approving the project.

Barbara Durkin, a vocal opponent of the project who has focused her criticism on the potential impact of the wind turbines on birds, said that Massachusetts Audubon has clearly expressed a bias in favor of Cape Wind despite being a part of the review process.

"They’re not supposed to offer their support during this time and they’ve done that," she said.

Audubon officials have refused to say they would not accept a contract to participate in the lucrative adaptive management program they called for in their challenge, she said.

"That’s the red flag to me," she said. The idea that Massachusetts Audubon was making its decision on Cape Wind based on the possibility that it would gain financially from monitoring the project is "nonsense," Clarke countered.

The organization has 110,000 members and does not require money from this monitoring program to thrive, he said.

"We’ve gone through two world wars and a great depression," he said. "We don’t rely on anything but our membership to really be the core of our support."

A flurry of lawsuits

Despite Mass Audubon’s continued support for Cape Wind, other environmental groups have come out against the project, said Audra Parker, president of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

The Alliance has joined several environmental and government watchdog groups in a lawsuit challenging the Department of Interior’s approval of Cape Wind and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the turbines would not affect the survival of endangered species.

The Alliance, the town of Barnstable and the Martha’s Vineyard/Duke’s County Fishermen’s Association also filed separate legal challenges to the project in federal court Friday.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is considering a challenge to a bundle of permits issued for Cape Wind by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board. The state Department of Public Utilities must still approve a contract between Cape Wind and National Grid for power from the project.

A series of three public hearings on the contract were held earlier this month and evidentiary hearings are being scheduled in the case.

By Patrick Cassidy, Cape Cod Times,