Wind-Power Backers Seek New Planning Ideas

By Staff December 1, 2005

The Atlantic coastline offers great potential for offshore wind farms, but as wind-power developers in Cape Cod and Nantucket Island are finding, the area also features more than its share of hot air. Now a new consortium, bringing together government, universities and private industry, is working to develop a framework for developing wind-power projects that make economic—and regulatory—sense.

The effort is being led by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative , the state’s development agency for renewable energy, along with turbine manufacturer General Electric and the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE). Also involved are experts from the University of Massachusetts , the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MIT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , among others. Those involved say developing a credible permitting process is essential to success.

The battle over the proposed $900 million Cape Wind project, which would place 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound , shows just how difficult permitting is today. Nantucket property owners are fighting the project, which would generate up to 457 MW of electricity, arguing the turbines would damage scenic vistas—and property values—in the upscale resort community. Both sides are now engaged in a billboard war along Boston-area expressways.

In contrast, a proposed 40-turbine project off the coast of Long Island is progressing smoothly. Although developers at the Long Island Power Authority began planning the $300 million, 140-MW effort several years after Cape Wind began its fight, a smoother permitting process means its turbines could be turning by late 2008.

The Massachusetts effort, if successful, could help enable a significant boost in U.S. wind-power production. The DOE has estimated offshore wind-power capacity at 900,000 MW, with New England and the Mid-Atlantic coasts offering the greatest potential. GE estimates that this could translate into a $10 billion industry if the permitting process can be made more predictable and transparent.