Since 2000, an energy company in Massachusetts has been trying to build a 130-turbine wind farm in the waters off Nantucket, the first such project in the United States. Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, discusses the lengthy approval process for the turbines, which he says could help alleviate high energy prices in Massachusetts. Gordon also examines the changing landscape for federal approval of offshore turbines, where the wind industry is headed next and why there is so much political resistance to wind farms from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining us today is Jim Gordon. He's the president of Cape Wind Associates. It's a company that's trying to build the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Jim thanks a lot for being here.
Jim Gordon: Good morning Brian. Thanks for having me.
Brian Stempeck: Let's first get everybody up to speed about what you guys are proposing. Basically it's an offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. Tell us what you want to build.
Jim Gordon: Basically Brian we're proposing America's first offshore wind farm. It consists of 130 wind turbines that are approximately 7 miles from Hyannis, 13 miles from Nantucket and 9 miles from Edgartown in Martha's Vineyard. The project would produce at peak output, 420 megawatts of clean renewable energy. And basically this project has been under development now for five years and in the permitting process for four years. It's really about America's energy future. We have this enormous inexhaustible resource off our coasts. And Cape Wind would be the gateway project to tapping this vast resource for lower electric costs, increased energy independence and new jobs.
Brian Stempeck: Now at first this project was basically under the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers. And recently it switched to the Minerals Management Service and they are going to be undertaking a new review. Where do things stand? It's been about five years since you first proposed this. How much longer are you going to have to wait?
Jim Gordon: Well I'll tell you Brian there are 16 federal and state agencies that have been reviewing this project. And you're right the Army Corps was the lead permitting agency for four years. But Minerals Management Service, the new lead, has been a cooperating agency from day one. So I think what's happened in the Energy Policy Act Congress has granted MMS the authority to grant easements for offshore renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. So these are the folks that manage the offshore energy program, oil and gas, they have a lot of experience doing this. And I think more importantly as a result of Katrina and Rita, the hurricanes, they recognize that concentrating a large portion of our domestic energy production in the Gulf Coast isn't the best situation for our country. It's important that we not only have diverse energy resources like wind power, solar, geothermal, nuclear, but we also have geographically diverse.
Brian Stempeck: Do you think now that the federal agency has been pretty much settled - this has one of the biggest hurdles to the project so far? Is that the biggest barrier that's been resolved now? Now that we've seen it go from the Corps to MMS?
Jim Gordon: You know, in some ways Cape Wind is forming the regulatory scheme for offshore wind. This is the first project of its kind in America. And we're confident, the corps has done a great job as well as the other agencies. We're confident with MMS taking the lead role that they're going to work expeditiously to make a final decision on this project. It has been now over four years on a project that puts out zero pollutant emissions, consumes zero water and discharges zero waste. So it's been a lengthy permitting process, but we're confident that MMS will try to move this project expeditiously. And in large part MMS recognizes that New England is in a serious energy predicament. A large part of our electricity is generated by natural gas and oil. And I think they recognize that if we have this resource off our coasts, we need to tap it.
Brian Stempeck: Opponents of this project have raised a number of concerns. Basically talking about it would impact the view. This is a major tourist area. Talking about how it will impact fishermen, birds, fish in the ocean, the entire spectrum of concerns really. Last year the Army Corps of Engineers came out with a report basically downplaying a lot of these concerns. Do you think all those, the major aspects of the opposition, do you think those have been met?
Jim Gordon: I don't think the Army Corps downplayed the concerns. I think the merits of the project are what invalidated those concerns. You know there are offshore wind farms that have been successfully operating in Europe for the last decade. I visited these offshore wind farms. I visited the visitor centers. They become tourist attractions in these areas. They have not had a negative impact on birds or on fishing. In fact Brian if you look at the major environmental organizations in the United States they're supporting Cape Wind. I'm talking about people like National Resource Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists, these organizations that for decades have had mandates of protecting coastal environments, ocean environments. And they're supporting this project along with labor organizations, health organizations, because Cape Wind is about producing needed electricity without greenhouse gases, without pollutant emissions. And those are the things that really degrade our ocean and coastal environments.
Brian Stempeck: Now at the same time we're seeing a lot of political opposition to do this proposal. In the past few years there's been a number of riders, legislative language that's inserted into this bill or that, that would outright stop the Cape Wind project, naming it by name, or block some offshore wind projects in general. Where do you think that opposition is coming from?
Jim Gordon: Well I think some political leaders took a premature position on Cape Wind. They took a position even before the draft environmental impact statement was out or that the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board, which is a state agency charged with a reliable electricity supply. They granted a favorable decision to the Cape Wind project. The point is those riders were opposed. They were defeated because, this project does enjoy a lot of political support because I think that Congress recognizes and we need to move to offshore wind energy in order to break our reliance on foreign energy and also address our global warming and climate change concerns. So I think political leaders, the more that's coming out about this project, they're stepping up and recognizing this is important. And importantly, in the region, in Massachusetts public opinion polls have shown that folks are supporting Cape Wind three to one. And even on the Cape and Islands the public opinion is split. Now any energy developer would love to have numbers like that.
Brian Stempeck: Now you have Governor Romney though, of Massachusetts, who has opposed this project in the past. The Kennedy compound is only a few miles away. Does it strike you that some of these politicians are being hypocritical? I mean on one hand we always hear people talking about the need for clean energy. And then when they have it in their own backyard it seemed like are trying to kill it.
Jim Gordon: You can't say you're an avid supporter of renewable energy if you're not supporting tangible projects that can work. And why it works on Horseshoe Shoal is because that's where the wind is. It has shallow depths, low wave heights and a reasonable proximity to tying in the electricity to the grid. Again Brian, there are some political leaders that have taken a premature position on this project. But as they see the results of the environmental impact statements and the results of the Mass Energy Facility Siting Board decisions, I'm hopeful that they will come around and support this project because there's a real anxiety in New England. It's not only the electric prices now, recent rates are showing businesses paying $0.19 per kilowatt and that's just for the energy. That doesn't include transmission and distribution. So there are concerns about supply shortages of natural gas. We have this wind resource. There's over 900,000 megawatts of offshore wind potential, according to the Department of Energy, off our coasts. The majority of those resources are off of New England and the mid Atlantic. So this is a resource that we can tap to create local jobs and a more sustainable energy future.
Brian Stempeck: Now I was going to ask you about that. Your company of course is proposing basically the first major offshore wind farm in the United States. Where else is your company looking and where else do you see the industry going as a whole when it comes to offshore development?
Jim Gordon: Well, our company has been involved in energy development in New England for over 30 years. And we think that offshore wind is going to be a huge industry in the United States. It's simply because of global demand and supply concerns about fossil fuels. This makes sense. We have this resource. There are other companies now, projects off of Long Island. FPL is involved in a project off of Jones Beach on Long Island. There are some energy companies looking at British Colombia. Southern Company and Georgia Tech are looking at working on one off the coast of Georgia. So I think as people get more familiar with the technology and the opportunity, they're going to see that this can be an increasing part of our energy mix. And it has to be because we have to start reducing our reliance on foreign energy, reducing our reliance on countries that don't share the same interests that our countries do, and also to create important new jobs.
Brian Stempeck: You were talking before basically about how high energy prices are going to help make people in New England realize that wind power is something they should turn to. But at the same time we're seeing, we had a recent guest on our show talking about how they're going to build new liquefied natural gas facilities in New England. Are you risking an energy backlash? If you're building too many facilities, wind power, LNG in the Northeast, do you think people are going to say well maybe we're over doing it a bit?
Jim Gordon: The electricity demand is growing rapidly, particularly on the Cape and Islands. It's the fastest growing electric demand in New England. And the facts are that New England does need new energy resources. And we need a diverse portfolio of energy resources. We can't rely on one resource or technology. So I don't think there's going to be an energy backlash. I think the energy backlash is going to come when the lights go out or when the price becomes so high that businesses start to say, you know what, I can't locate in New England or I can't expand in New England. And people are thinking about that. We talked to the business community and there is a pervasive anxiety about our energy situation in New England because we are not aggressively pursuing needed projects.
Brian Stempeck: Based on your experience so far what advice would you have to offer other companies looking to build offshore turbines like you're doing? Do you think Cape Wind is just an isolated case of a wealthy beachfront community that doesn't want to have these wind turbines? Or is this going to be a 'not in my backyard' problem that happens anywhere?
Jim Gordon: As a pioneer you get arrows in your back. And clearly there is a case where we have 'not in my backyard' opponents. And that's really what it boils down to. It's not the merits. It's just people saying I just don't want it here. I think that persistence and dedication and educating the people, we've done over 450 community outreach meetings. We've done public forums. We're educating folks and political leaders about the project. And as people recognize that this technology is going to produce significant benefits at minimal impacts, we see a real momentum building to have this project happen. And also open the gateway to tapping this huge offshore wind resource that we have in our country.
Brian Stempeck: All right Jim. We're out of time. We're going to stop there. Thanks a lot for coming on the show.
Jim Gordon: Thank you Brian.
Brian Stempeck: I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.
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