Friday, April 21, 2006

US Offshore Wind Development Still Under Threat - Last Chance to Act

Towards the end of February, I called your attention to some backroom maneuvering to block the development of the Cape Wind Project, the largest proposed wind development and potentially first offshore wind farm in the United States (another proposed project in Texas might beat it to the finish line at this point). Now, Cape Wind is under threat again.

[Before I get into the nitty gritty, if you'd like to act to support Cape Wind and offshore wind development in the US (and I strongly urge you to do so) please read the below article, or this summary of the issue, and call and/or email your Senators to urge them to oppose the Steven's language attached to the Coast Guard Reathorization act]

As you may remmber, at the time of my I earlier post, Alaskan Congressman, Don Young (R), had attached language to the large Coast Guard Reauthorization Act that would have greatly extended the buffer zone required between offshore wind developments and major shipping lanes. The proposed new buffer distance, 1.5 nautical miles, would have virtually killed the Cape Wind Project, as it would prohibit a large portion of the proposed 130 turbine development, making the project "no longer be economically viable to build," according to Cape Wind spokesman, Mark Rodgers.

The proposed Cape Wind project would construct 130 turbines on a shallow area of Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound called Horseshoe Shoal, according to Cape Wind Associates (CWA), the developers of the project. The development would produce 420 MW (peak) of clean renewable power. In average winds, that would be enough to meet the needs three quarters of Cape Cod and surrounding island's electricity, according to CWA.

At the end of February, Young succesfully attached his ammendment to the Coast Guard Bill which then went to the House-Senate negotiating committee, a committee which just happened to be chaired by Young and fellow Alaskan, Senator Ted Stevens (R) (the man behind the repeated backhanded attempts to authorize drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge). In committee, Young's buffer language was stripped from the bill, only to have Senator Stevens add another ammendment targeting the Cape Wind project, the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) reports.

Stevens inserted an amendment giving the Massachusetts governor veto power over the wind farm. This too would effectively kill the project as Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to do everything in his power to stop it, ADN reports.

The Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill and the attached Steven's language now must be approved by both the House and Senate. This gives Cape Wind Associates and its allies, including Greenpeace and several other national environmental groups as well as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), time to fight the ammendment.

According to the ADN, the IBEW Local 103 in Massachusetts is particularly into the wind farm, which Cape Wind has agreed would be subject to a project labor agreement, a preliminary collective bargaining contract. As ADN writes:

Outside the IBEW hall south of Boston, next to a freeway, the union has its own wind turbine and an electric sign that has been flashing "Stop the Alaskan Ambush" at drivers on the adjacent freeway.
Still, this all makes you ponder, just as Mark Rodgers did, what these Alaskans have against a wind farm in Massachusetts. "You have to ask, what's in it for Alaska?" said the CWA spokesman.

The proposed wind farm is intensely controversial in Massachusetts, ADN writes.
It would be within sight of Martha's Vineyard and other beloved summer vacation communities. Its advocates say Sen. Ted Kennedy and other rich homeowners there just don't want their view spoiled. Project enemies talk about protecting the marine environment and navigation as well as the "aesthetic pollution" of all those huge wind turbines.
Advocates have pointed out that the turbines would only appear about 1" tall on the horizon and would only be visible on clear days. Many proponents of the development argue that this is a perfect example of the 'Not In My BackYard' (NIMBY) attitude blocking the much needed development of renewable energy. Polling shows state residents outside of Cape Cod overwhelmingly support the wind farm, ADN reports, but on the Cape the opposition is much stronger. According to ADN, more than 60 percent of Nantucket residents opposed it in a recent nonbinding vote.

So what do these two Alaskans have against the project, indeed, why do they care at all?

According to ADN, Stevens has said he added veto power for the governor because Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), asked him to and because he believes states should determine what happens off their shores. "Senator Stevens was approached by Senator Kennedy and, on the merits of his argument, agreed," said Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders.

But Stevens and Kennedy aren't usually allies, wind advocates note. As ADN points out, Kennedy, one of the nation's most prominent and vocally liberal Democrats, passionately opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Stevens has been working to open for more than 25 years. Suggesting that an Alaskan Senator, like Stevens, might cooperate with Kennedy, as television ads did in Alaska's most recent Senate race, amounts to negative campaigning in Alaska.

Congressman Young told reporters in Anchorage that it was the Coast Guard that first raised the issue with him and that he's concerned the wind turbines might threaten navigation.

But Coast Guard spokeswoman Angela McCardle said the Coast Guard never asked for the buffer zone Young's bill required. "We prefer to look at it on a case-by-case basis and not just use 1.5 miles" as a mandatory distance, she said, a policy that seems to make perfect sense to me.

So what gives? Why would Senator Stevens be willing to take a stand on this issue, one affecting an area far from his constituents, and why would he risk associating himself with Senator Kennedy? And why would Young imply that the Coast Guard requested his ammendment when the spokesman for the Guard has denied it [some might call Young's statement a flat out lie; it's up to you though]?

According to the ADN article, Cape Wind supporters have had lots of theories, several concerning lobbyists that are said to have pull with Stevens or Young. Some, for example, wondered whether a lobbyist working for the wind farm opponents, a man whose last name was Young, was Don Young's son. However, Don Young has no sons; there goes that theory...

Another theory centers on the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. Ted Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers and a board member of The Wilderness Society, exasperated Stevens last year when he and Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of another Republican president, came to the Capitol to oppose drilling in ANWR. "I really am very, very disturbed," Stevens said at the time.

Roosevelt has been a vocal supporter of Cape Wind for several years, ADN reports, even though he owns a house on Martha's Vineyard that overlooks Nantucket Sound [making him relatively unique amongst prominent area residents]. Lehman Brothers is also a financial adviser to the project, he said.

Roosevelt was one of the featured speakers at Thursday's news conference held by Cape Wind Associates and its allies. The Roosevelt theory reportedly gained currency when Young suggested to Anchorage reporters in February that they should look into who was financing Cape Wind.

Roosevelt, though, didn't put much stock in the speculation that the Alaskans are using the wind farm as payback for his stance against ANWR, ADN reports.

"I think they've got more important things to worry about than the fact that my firm is involved in this as a financial adviser," Roosevelt said. "I suspect that it's relationships in the Senate, that Ted Kennedy reached out to him and said, 'This is very important to me.'?" Or maybe a Republican senator persuaded him, he suggested, or a lobbyist. "We simply don't know, and they aren't saying," Roosevelt concluded.

Ernie Corrigan, a spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the group fighting the wind farm, told ADN that the reasons aren't so mysterious. Young and Stevens are chairmen of the committees most relevant to the issue, he noted. They know from their experience with Alaska fisheries that states should have a big say in what happens off their shores, he said. And, he added, why wouldn't Stevens oblige a request from Kennedy? "It should not shock anyone ... that Ted Kennedy has worked with both sides of the aisle on a lot of things," said Corrigan.

Don Young, whose days as a Yukon River barge captain are a feature of his persona, has an "instinctive" understanding of navigation hazards, Corrigan posited. "I'm told he's the only licensed mariner in Congress," Corrigan said, echoing an attribute Young often notes.

Still, at least for this inquisitive mind, I'm left wondering, why should this issue be resolved through the backroom maneuvering of a pair of Congressman from Alaska? Why shouldn't this get a simple up and down vote, rather than being attached in conference as a rider on a much larger Coast Guard appropriations bill? Or better yet, why not leave issues of navigation safety up to the experts at the Coast Guard, who as they've stated, would prefer the freedom to decide these issues on a case by case basis?

If you find yourself, as I have, baffled by this issue and believe that the Cape Wind Project will be an important step towards harnessing the as-of-yet untapped offshore wind potential in the United States, I urge you to act (again) to support Cape Wind and offshore wind development in the United States. Please call and/or email your Senators to urge them to oppose the Steven's language attached to the Coast Guard Reathorization act. If you'd like further reading, Cape Wind Associates has talking points and a collection of editorials and articles here. And if you haven't read it, my previous post on the issue, which goes much more into the supposed navigation concerns, can be found here.

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