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Monday, February 27, 2006

Offshore Wind Power in the U.S. Threatened - Please Act Now

As many of you may already know, the development of offshore wind power in the United States is in danger. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) has started a 'backdoor' legislative effort to restrict the development of offshore wind in the U.S., including the proposed Cape Wind Project.

According to Renewable Energy Access, Congressman Young is seeking to attach an amendment to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill scheduled to be discussed in Conference Committee as early as this week. As REA points out, the stated purpose of a Conference Committee is to "resolve differences" between House and Senate Bills, not to introduce entirely new provisions that were not reviewed by either chamber, as is happening in this case. Amendments attached in Conference Committee are difficult to remove as both chambers tend to give important spending bills clearing the Committee an "up or down" vote with no changes.

The Young Ammendment would ban offshore wind farms within 1.5 nautical miles (1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile) of a shipping channel or ferry route. The required buffer zone between offshore oil and gas rigs and shipping lanes is only 500 feet, by comparison. According to REA, the entire justification offered for Young's 1.5-mile ban is a recent report in the United Kingdom that identifies an approach on how the possible marine navigation radar risks potentially posed by offshore wind farms should be reviewed. The current UK approach, however, calls for a buffer zone of only 500 meters, about one-third a nautical mile. Additionally, the UK approach smartly rejects a "one size fits all" solution and leaves siting permits for offshore wind farms up to the UK Coast Guard to evaluate each project beyond 500 meters on a case-by-case basis.

An article today in the Cape Cod Times presents a pretty balanced look at the proposed ammendment. As the article points out:

"Like most debate swirling around Cape Wind's 130-turbine proposal, the impact of the project on navigation depends mainly on whom you ask. With no precedent in the United States, even those who ply these waters for a living disagree."
While the two largest ferry service providers on the Cape Cod islands support the Young's efforts, other veteran pilots in the area disagree, calling the predicted risks overstated, and the proposed restrictions unwarranted.

''The area they're proposing the turbines, the ships don't go in there anyway,'' said Larry Palmer, 59, a veteran captain and senior pilot with the Northeast Marine Pilot's Association. ''The only thing that the wind farm is going to do,'' he said, ''is provide a good aide from which to navigate.''

With no precedent for offshore wind farms in the United States, it makes sense to look to Europe where they are now becoming common place and have years of real evidence to be examined. As mentioned above, Young claims that his ammendment is drawn directly from regulations in the UK, a claim that the Cape Cod Times reprinted. According to REA, this claim is misleading and innacurate as Young's proposal more than quadruples the size of the UK buffer zone. However, it appears that REA may be mistaken as the Times reports that a draft of new guidelines from the British Coast Guard has suggested that wind farms greater than 2 nautical miles from a shipping lane are ''tolerable.'' Inside 1½ miles, however, the agency reports that the projects may interfere with radar and require ''very close scrutiny.'' The British Chamber of Shipping has reportedly urged that future projects be delayed until guidelines are set.

According to the Times, Cape Wind supporters insist the lesson from Great Britain is that each proposal should be considered on its own merits . ''They explicitly reject a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach,'' Rodgers said of British policy.

On this point, the U.S. Coast Guard seems to be in complete agreement. 'We didn't comment on the distance, so much as the fact that we'd rather it be less prescriptive,'' said Mike Sollosi, chief of the Office of Navigational Systems with the Coast Guard. In other words, the Coast Guard is concerned about imposing a blanket provision that applies to all projects. ''I'm not saying that 1½ miles is wrong,'' Sollosi said. ''I'm just saying we don't know if it's right or wrong.'' Accoring to the Times, Sollosi also called the UK regulations a bit too specific.

Leaving the authority to judge siting requests on a case by case basis with the experts at the Coast Guard, rather than in the hands of a congressman from Alaska seems to make perfect sense to me.

Additionally, Young's proposed restrictions brush aside all evidence from Denmark who have been pioneers in offshore wind development. As REA points out, an offshore wind farm near Copenhagen sits only .25 nautical miles from an extremely busy shipping lane, and another offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea is located one nautical mile from the main channel that connects the Baltic Sea with the North Sea. These and other Danish offshore wind farms have had no reports of any problems with sea navigation, according to REA.

Finally, as Greenpeace points out, the Young Ammendment conflicts with the congressional intent of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Energy Policy Act directs the Secretary of Interior to develop, in consultation with the Coast Guard and other agencies, “any necessary regulations.” The ammendment undermines that process, which has only just begun.

The Young Ammendment seems to specifically target the proposed Cape Wind project. According to the Cape Cod Times, Young's amendment would doom the Cape project. ''It would remove a substantial area of Horseshoe Shoal from being able to have wind turbines,'' said Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind spokesman. ''It would no longer be economically viable to build.'' Cape Wind officials insist Young's navigation restriction is unnecessary, according to the Times. Ninety percent of the project would be built in waters shallower than 30 feet, they say.

''I could not be more convinced that this amendment is clearly excessive,'' said Richard Elrick (as quoted in the Times), a 20-year maritime veteran on the sound and former Hy-Line captain. ''You are much more likely to run aground than hit a turbine.''

It's also interesting to note that the Young Amendment was first reported in an article in the Congressional Quarterly on December 5, at which point Young's office denied its existence and called Cape Wind "paranoid," according to REA. In subsequent media reports, Young's office mostly refused public comment or said little about what he was trying to do. It thus appears that Young is not only attempting to go through backdoor legislative methods, he and his office also actively attempted to conceal their efforts, even going to far, it appears, as to lie about their plans.

I would strongly urge you to take action to oppose Young's ammendment and show your support for offshore wind development in the United States. We are already lagging far behind much of the rest of the world in this department and Young's ammendments would only provide further setbacks. Take action now with True Majory and/or Greenpeace or call or write the following senators and representatives who sit on the Conference Committee:

Senators: Daniel Inouye (if you live in HI); Frank Lautenberg (NJ); Gordon Smith (OR); Maria Cantwell (WA); Olympia Snowe (ME); Ted Stevens (AK); Trent Lott (MS).

Representatives: Young (AK), LoBiondo, Coble, Hoekstra, Simmons, Diaz-Balart, M., Boustany, Oberstar, Filner, Taylor (MS), Higgins, Schwartz (PA); Barton (TX), Gillmor, Dingell, Lungren, Daniel E., Reichert, Thompson (MS), Pombo, Jones (NC), and Pallone.

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