US approves first offshore wind power plant with Siemens’ wind turbines

The US government approved to build the country’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, a popular Massachusetts holiday destination.

A federal agency approved a construction and operations plan for the Cape Wind power project off the Massachusetts coast, clearing the way for work to begin on America’s first offshore wind farm as early as this fall, Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar announced.

Approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement was required before construction of the proposed 130 wind turbines wind farm in Nantucket Sound could get under way.

The secretary said the Cape Wind project, which has already received other state and federal permits, could create 600 to 1,000 jobs and that nationwide the wind power industry had the potential for tens of thousands of jobs.

"The wind energy potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering," but the vetting process for projects to tap it is too drawn out, Salazar said at a news conference in Boston.

"Taking 10 years to permit an offshore wind farm like Cape Wind is simply unacceptable," and the Obama administration is examining ways to streamline the permitting process so it won’t take so long, Salazar said.

Installation of 130, 3.6-megawatt wind turbines with blades of up to 440 feet (134 meters), built by German company Siemens, could begin in Nantucket Sound by the autumn, the Department of the Interior said announcing that the Cape Wind Power Project was finally going ahead.

The wind power project, which was first put forward in September 2001, has undergone "an unprecedented level of environmental and regulatory analysis," according to the plan approved by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), part of the Interior Department.

The US government only signed off on the project after "a thorough review of environmental impacts," said BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said adding that "extraordinary steps" have been taken "to fully evaluate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound."

Once completed, the wind farm is expected to supply around three-quarters of the annual energy requirements of Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and cut carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts by more than 733,000 tons a year.

A 2008 law requires Massachusetts utilities to obtain increasing amounts of renewable power and calls for 20 percent of their supply to be renewable power by 2025. The same law tries to make it easier for renewable projects to get financing by requiring utilities to seek long-term deals with them for at least 3 percent of their total demand.

The state’s largest utility, National Grid, signed a deal with Cape Wind that the utility said will cost ratepayers $1.2 billion above the projected market price of comparable energy by the time it’s done. Still, National Grid argues that the deal is a good price for the benefits it is receiving, including a uniquely large size for a renewable power project and proximity to an energy-hungry coast.

The state’s other large utility, NStar, passed on Cape Wind, instead focusing on energy contracts with three smaller land wind farms that it said are a total of $111 million below market price.

The Cape Wind project will cost $2.62 billion to build, according an estimate from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. Developers say it will power 200,000 homes in average winds.