Wind Farm? Not Off My Back Porch

A major battle in the politics of alternative energy has moved to a final phase in Washington, and a senator named Kennedy with a waterfront view and a bone to pick awaits.

Friday was a good day for Jim Gordon, the man hungry to build America's first offshore wind farm off the Cape Cod coast.

The state environmental office -- one of a battery of local, state and federal agencies reviewing the project's permits -- ruled that his proposal to build 130 turbines in the waters of Nantucket Sound complies with the state's environmental policy.

Gordon and his Cape Wind project, which he says would generate 79 percent of the power for Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, have been pitched in a series of regulatory battles since 2001.

Already, he has spent $30 million in pursuit of the renewable energy project, which he argues the nation desperately needs to help combat global warming and promote energy independence.

While there currently are no wind farms off American shores, they're a clean power source that have gained increasing acceptance around the world, perhaps most notably in Denmark.

There are also other states -- Texas, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, for example -- either interested or already pursuing wind power with a close eye on Cape Wind's experience.

"We're behind in the global scene and we shouldn't be," Gordon said during a press conference, calling his proposal "the apex of environmental stewardship."

But while the news at the state level may be cheery, Cape Wind isn't ready for construction just yet.

Minerals Management Service, an office of the U.S. Department of the Interior, will have the final say probably in early 2008, Gordon said. If approved at the federal level -- the wind farm's footprint would lie within the federal waters of Nantucket Sound -- Gordon would aim for completion in 2010.

But another obstacle is a political heavyweight with a famous name, a local Cape Cod address and hardline opposition to the project.

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy's primary residence is in Hyannisport, Mass., on the Kennedy family compound. It's one of the closest landfalls -- about 6 miles -- from the proposed site of the 440-feet turbines, which would be visible from his house as well as other surrounding coastlines.

Since 2001, there have been various legislative attempts to quash the project in Washington, many of which could be tied one way or another to the Democratic Bay State senator.

As the battle moves into its final permitting phase, Gordon said he holds on to hope that Kennedy -- typically known as an environmental advocate -- will alter his position.

"I'm hopeful the senator looks at this information and supports it," Gordon said Friday, a mild statement in what at times has been a testy exchange.

Critics argue that Kennedy's opposition has been rooted not in substantive arguments against the project's merits but in the proximity of his house to Nantucket Sound and his love of sailing. Simply put, critics, including Cape Wind, have accused Kennedy of opposing the project squarely for not-in-my-backyard reasons.

"It has absolutely nothing to do with it," Kennedy spokesman Melissa Wagoner said, rejecting the NIMBY label. "The senator has spoken at length of the inadequacy of the review and the special process Cape Wind has had."

Because Cape Wind would be the nation's first offshore wind farm, regulations have evolved alongside the proposal. While the company takes credit for helping guide offshore wind policy, project opponents, including Kennedy and a well-financed local opposition group, argue that a framework should be in place before Cape Wind is even considered.

Kennedy's office released a statement downplaying Cape Wind's positive news at the state level:

"The review of the Cape Wind project rests with the Department of the Interior, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense, which will release their findings in the months ahead," according to the statement. "Sen. Kennedy hopes those agencies will give serious consideration to the safety, maritime, environmental and economic concerns raised by the Cape Wind proposal."

Other issues bothering opponents are the millions of dollars in state and federal subsidies the project would enjoy, as well as any possible impact these enormous turbines may have on military defense and aircraft radar.

Cape Wind's backers say that the turbines offer sufficient mitigation steps -- on top of the benefits of renewable energy -- to outweigh any detriments, a determination Massachusetts made Friday.

Ian Bowles, secretary of environmental affairs in Massachusetts and now a project supporter, ruled that from the state's perspective, Cape Wind clearly provides significant benefits. "In terms of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, this is the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road," Bowles said.

The project may also benefit from newly elected Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who made supporting the renewable energy proposal an early cornerstone of his victorious campaign, the views of fellow Democrat Kennedy notwithstanding.

If the debate over Cape Wind in Washington stretches into 2008, Gordon may face another serious hurdle, this one presidential-size.

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shared Kennedy's disdain for the project.