Offshore Wind Farm Gets Government Go-Ahead After years of delay, the Interior Department has given Cape Wind Associates the go-ahead to develop a 130-turbine wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. Ira Flatow and guests discuss the project and what it might mean for wind farm development in other parts of the country.
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Offshore Wind Farm Gets Government Go-Ahead

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Offshore Wind Farm Gets Government Go-Ahead

Offshore Wind Farm Gets Government Go-Ahead

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You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Up next, a look at plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm. If you've been following the news this week, you know that after a nine-year battle, Cape Wind has gotten the green light to install wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound.

On Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the decision in Boston, saying Cape Wind would be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. and, quote, the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast.

Cape Wind plans 130 turbines at the site. Several groups have threatened more legal action, saying this is not the end of it, and we're going to hear from one organization opposing the plan a little bit later.

But first, joining me now to talk more about the decision, what it means for wind energy in other parts of the country, are my guests - Jim Gordon, CEO of Cape Wind. That is the company that got approval this week, those 130 turbines. Thanks for talking with us today. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. JIM GORDON (Chief Executive Officer, Cape Wind Associates LLC): Good afternoon, Ira, how are you?

FLATOW: Good afternoon to you. Denise Bode is the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. She joins us by phone from Washington. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Ms. DENISE BODE (Chief Executive Officer, American Wind Energy Association): Great to be with you.

FLATOW: Jim, I understand you were out celebrating this week.

Mr. GORDON: Well, you know, we're celebrating for so many citizens in Massachusetts that really want to move our region to a more sustainable energy future. We're happy because the United States now is going to take a new direction in, you know, addressing climate change, energy independence, creating new green energy jobs, and it's just an exciting time. It was a long effort but well worth it.

FLATOW: For people who don't understand why you chose that spot off the Cape, why that spot in particular?

Mr. GORDON: Simply because it's the optimal wind, offshore wind site on the East Coast. It has shallow waters; strong, consistent winds; a low wave regime, wave heights; and it also has reasonable proximity to move the underground transmission lines to connect to the electric grid.

But I do want to say, Ira, that still this site is 13 miles from Nantucket, nine miles from Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, and it's about six miles from Hyannis. So we're offshore, and we're going to be able to peacefully coexist on Nantucket Sound and produce, on average, 75 percent of the Cape and islands electricity with zero pollutant emissions, no greenhouse gases, no water, and no waste discharge.

FLATOW: Denise Bode, there were six states that lined up, most of them shore states, I think they were all shore states, that lined up behind this project trying to influence the administration's decision, and they seem to have been successful. Are we going to be seeing more of these? I've seen already notes from New Jersey, Rhode Island, places like that, starting pilot projects to see how this might work in their states.

Ms. BODE: Absolutely. You know, this project is history in the making. It really opens the door for the offshore wind industry to get started in the United States, and you know, we have all up and down the coast and in the Great Lakes and in the Gulf - have projects that are in the pipeline. In fact, some already have purchase-power agreements signed.

So this really signals that we're open for business, and it's particularly interesting that it is important not only for the clean generation that Jim talks about, which is unbelievably important for that area, which actually uses oil for generation, so this will actually be replacing oil, you know, which of course, you know, we're seeing the biggest oil spill, you know, in history probably in the making in the Gulf of Mexico. So it really - juxtaposed against that, this is, like, fabulous.

But even more important is that it will open up the U.S. for business for building a huge new manufacturing sector because we have two American companies - General Electric and Clipper, who make those turbines, are actually building facilities in the U.K. because the U.K. has put in place a long-term commitment to building out offshore wind, and so the European countries have all started building wind parks many years ago, and so they've proven the technology and that's where the manufacturing sector - but this says we want that, we want to incent, we want to encourage that to come here to the United States.

So those are long-term, clean, high-tech jobs that we can create to put people back to work in this country.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We have a couple of phone calls coming in. Let's go to Cliff in Cape Cod. Hi, Cliff.

CLIFF (Caller): Hello, how are you?


CLIFF: How are you doing, Jim?

Mr. GORDON: Hey, Cliff, how are you?

CLIFF: I'm doing well, thanks, I'm doing well. I have a question in reference to the permitting. You know, there's a celebration taking place, and congratulations for getting this far, so far. But I do have a question in reference to a couple of pending issues.

As you know, the FAA has issued a determination of hazard or a presumed determination of hazard in reference to the 400,000 flights a year that are going to travel through that airspace, and the investigation is not completed.

They haven't issued their final determinations yet, and when you look around the world, there isn't really any fixes yet that anyone has come up with for radar interference. Four hundred thousand flights a year, some of the foggiest air in the East Coast. And I'm just questioning: How are you able to go about getting this approval, considering the fact that a life-and-death decision has not been made and the chances are that they will affect the footprint of the turbines?

And then the other question I had in reference to this...

FLATOW: Cliff, one at a time. Go ahead.

Mr. GORDON: Well, as Cliff knows, he started an opposition group against this project, but he knows that the FAA has already issued two permits for Cape Wind. Those permits...

CLIFF: They expired, Jim.

Mr. GORDON: They expire every 18 months.

CLIFF: They expired. They already expired.

FLATOW: Cliff, Cliff, we want to be fair.

Mr. GORDON: They expire with the passage of time if you don't construct. So we got two permits. We haven't started construction. We are talking to the FAA now, and we are fully confident they will once again permit the project so we can move forward.

CLIFF: But they've already issued the determination of presumed hazard on the project and confirmed the fact there's electromagnetic interference and radar interference.

Mr. GORDON: Every project, Cliff, in FAA parlance, you are guilty until you are proven innocent. So when a project submits an application, it is always determined a presumed hazard until the FAA goes through their process and issues a permit.

We received a permit twice before, and we will receive the final permit prior to construction to move forward.

FLATOW: What about people who say that your electric rates are going to go up? Will this raise the electric bill for people?

Mr. GORDON: Well, let me put it this way. The people in Massachusetts and I think around the country want to tie their future electric bills to wind rather than volatile oil and natural gas. Over time, Cape Wind is going to be a very significant value to electricity consumers in New England because the price of wind is zero.

There is a capital cost for building the project, but once the project is built, you no longer have to pay for fuel. So we believe - and also the way that the power pool works in New England, Ira, is it works on a dispatch model basis so that every hour that Cape Wind is operating, because we have zero fuel costs, we will displace a more expensive, heavily polluting power plant. So we will actually lower the clearing price of electricity in New England.

FLATOW: There's a question coming in from Sammy Han(ph), who's at Second Life, and the question is: Is this the only area of wind density - water depth? And I'm glad you asked that question. I was in Chicago this week, where they were of course talking about the Great Lakes and putting wind power on the Great Lakes, and the question was raised there, that you can't go very far out into the lakes because they drop off so quickly.

Denise, is it possible to build a platform that, you know, is not in the shallow water and have it stable enough for wind platforms?

Ms. BODE: Well, I think one of the technologies that's been proven is being able to put platforms that are stable in various depths of water. One of the things that they're doing and have proven in the European Union, where they have a significant amount of wind offshore, is that although it is easier and less expensive to put it onshore - or not onshore but in shallower waters - you can go into a bit deeper, a bit deeper waters.

One of the things that they're doing in conjunction with the oil and gas industry is they are turning away from building drilling platforms to basically helping to supply platforms for wind turbines, and of course they have extraordinary technology in terms (technical difficulties) in deep water, although I wouldn't want to necessarily depend upon all of them in terms of controlling their oil shutoff right now, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BODE: ...but in terms of actually physically building the platform, I think they're doing pretty good.

FLATOW: And I want to bring on another guest, because as you can see from some of our phone calls, not everyone thinks that a wind farm, especially in Nantucket, is a good idea. And joining me now to talk more about the opposition to Cape Wind's plan is Audra Parker. She's president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Thanks for being with us today, Audra.

Ms. AUDRA PARKER (CEO and President, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound): Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

FLATOW: Tell me, your group represents whom?

Ms. PARKER: Our group represents about 30,000 Cape and Islands residents, as well as the group of stakeholders that oppose Cape Wind in its current location; which is ferry operators, chambers of commerce, airports, tribal members, resident, fishermen, pretty much every group that would earn their livelihoods or appreciates the value and the rich history of Nantucket Sound.

FLATOW: So you're saying that the fight is not over yet, and most of these people of your group believe that they're going to continue, and this is a poor decision?

Ms. PARKER: That's exactly right. The fight is far from over and will ultimately be settled in the courts, based on facts and not on politics. You know, this is not an issue of opposing renewable energy. Everybody supports that. It's an issue of location. It's an issue of needlessly sacrificing one of the most unique and treasured environmental and historical resources in the United States. And that's just a tragedy when there's a better alternative site with far fewer downsides.

Cape Wind, as Jim explained, chose their site purely on technical reasons with profit motives in mind, with no regard to the Native American tribes, no regard for the opposition in the local Cape and Islands community, and no regard for the rate payers throughout Massachusetts that will have to pay for the high costs of this project, which Cape Wind continues to refuse to disclose.


I'm Ira Flatow, talking now with Audra Parker. Audra, where would you put it?

Ms. PARKER: Well, for example, in the federal review of Cape Wind, they were required to consider alternative locations. And one of the alternatives that has stronger winds and minimizes many of the conflicts posed by Cape Wind is a location called south of Tuckernuck Island, just about 10 miles, edge to edge, southwest of Cape Wind's preferred site. And as I said, it minimizes or eliminates many of those conflicts and really presents a win-win situation which Cape Wind has refused.

FLATOW: Hmm. How does - is your organization going to file a lawsuit?

Ms. PARKER: Definitely. We've already filed notices of intent to sue. In fact, there are 10 parties, in total, that have already filed notices of intent to sue under various violations of law. And I think people in the Cape and Islands, stakeholders, are incensed and we will see multiple parties filing lawsuits until it is settled based on fact and not on the politics of the situation.

FLATOW: All right. Thank you very much for taking time to be with us today.

Ms. PARKER: Thank you.

FLATOW: Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in Hyannis, Massachusetts.


I'm Ira Flatow talking with Jim Gordon, CEO of Cape Wind, and Denise Bode of American Wind Energy Association. Jim, how do you answer that question about why couldn't you put it where they asked you to put it?

Mr. GORDON: Very simply because 17 federal and state agencies looked at all of the alternative site analysis - and I'd like to just read a fact. Environmental impact associated with the south of Tuckernuck Island site would be greater than those associated with the preferred alternative, with respect to avifauna, subtidal resources, non-endangered species, mammals, fish and fisheries, and essential fish habitat due to the larger geographical area needed for this alternative. So what the south of Tuckernuck site...

FLATOW: What fact - whose fact are you citing on that one?

Mr. GORDON: I am reading from the Minerals Management Service record of decision, the decision that Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of Interior, issued on Wednesday.

The fact is what Audra won't tell you is that it does move the wind turbines further from the south coast of Cape Cod where most of her constituents are, and - but it provides a much greater range of environmental impacts. And it is not as technically feasible as the Horseshoe Shoal site. So this is not me speaking. Audra said she wanted to base it on facts, not politics. The facts show that the site we picked has the least environmental impacts and it provides the greatest technical and economic feasibility for the project to move forward.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We're talking about wind turbines on SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Denise, can you figure out for us where you think the next project might be successful, or looks closest?

Ms. BODE: Well, I think there are several that are in the pipeline along the coast, that are making very serious progress, particularly New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island have advanced projects. New Jersey and Rhode Island both have state-based RFPs and has - have already - which is a request for proposal, and they've already awarded development rights to companies. Delaware's governor, the PUC and state legislatures are also instrumental in getting a Blue Water Project approved and a purchase power agreement negotiated. So, how quickly they'll get done is really anybody's guess. But this will really - this is really a step forward.

And I would like to go back and answer, you know, respond, if it's okay, Ira...

FLATOW: Go ahead.

Ms. BODE: what the - what your previous speaker talked about in terms of...

FLATOW: Audra Parker.

Ms. BODE: ...politics versus fact, if that's okay?


Ms. BODE: You know, I think there is a lot of politics going on. I want to share with you that, you know, in the wind association, we have been basically debunking myths that have been put out by lots of fossil fuel organizations around the country, one of which was funded by the Koch brothers, called the Institute for Energy Research. And they have been basically, anytime anything comes out on renewables they have funded studies to attack the wind industry and renewables. They have been behind almost all this effort. Previously, it was also funded by Exxon Mobil.

And now we've got, you know, the - one of the principal opponents to this project, is again, funded by one of the Koch brothers who makes the money, the money that's going into this - the opposition to the project comes from coal trading and from oil refining and other fossil fuel - of other fossil fuel revenues. And it seems to me that when you - 45 percent of the Cape's electricity, right now, burns fuel oil to build their power, that it's really appropriate to understand that you got to have, you know, that these consumers have to make a choice whether they want clean energy or not.

FLATOW: Okay. We're going to have to - we'll come right back after this break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about Cape Wind and the company's plan to build the nation's first offshore wind farm with the CEO of Cape Wind, Jim Gordon, and Denise Bode, who is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

FLATOW: Time for just a few more questions here. Folks, of course, from Massachusetts are chiming in. Barbara(ph) from Northborough. Hi. Welcome. Hi there.

BARBARA (Caller): Hi, Ira. Thank you for taking my call.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

BARBARA: I have a question for Jim Gordon.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

BARBARA: Dr. Michael Fry, chairman of the Federal Minerals Management Service Environmental Studies Advisory Committee, as director of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy, has just announced, quote, "The American Bird Conservancy is disappointed in the Department of Interior decision to approve Cape Wind," end quote. ABC calls the science on bird collision and project threat inadequate, offering that there may be significant impacts to the endangered Roseate Terns, and that the data suggests abandonment by loons and reduction of foraging habitat for migrating species.

FLATOW: Barbara, I'm going to guess that's your question. Any reaction, Jim?

Mr. GORDON: I do have a reaction. First of all, the federal and state ornithologists that have been working on this project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, has given Cape Wind the green light because they have ascertained that it will not provide a negative impact on birds.

Secondly, working alongside that, the Massachusetts Audubon Society has been very actively involved in this project now, since its inception. They did their own independent research, and they wrote a letter to President Obama about a week ago, along with the Natural Resource Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation and Union of Concerned Scientists, urging them to approve this project.

The greatest threat to birds are not wind turbines. The greatest threat to birds are climate change, oil spills like we're seeing - like we're watching on TV. Those are the - have the greatest impact on birds.

Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255. One last question on this then we have to go. From Mike(ph) in Lawrence, Kansas. Hi, Mike.

MIKE (Caller): Hi. I'm a Native American paralegal who has worked to fight projects attacking native sites out here in Kansas, and it's amazing the stuff goes on all over the country. My question is, with federal laws like traditional cultural properties and sacred sites as part of the national historic preservation register under section 106, what good are those federal laws when people just choose to obfuscate them or circumvent them to punish minority groups?


MIKE: And that's - I studied - because I've studied this stuff fighting the trafficway out here, and they always want to punish minorities because they don't think we'll say anything.

FLATOW: Okay. Let me see if I - I know there's an issue here with that in the Cape. Jim, how do you react to that?

Mr. GORDON: Well, if you look at - it's interesting, if you look at the interaction between energy projects and minorities, most of these projects have been built in poor neighborhoods where people don't have the political power to, you know, oppose them or investigate them. Here we have a different situation. The federal government has done tribal consultations with the tribes since the inception of this project.

The greatest threat to climate - to Cape Cod and the coastal properties of the Native American tribes, is not a wind farm that's going to be seven or nine or 13 miles from their land. It is actually going to be climate change that are currently eroding the beaches, that are going to bring more intense, and frequent hurricanes that will destroy property and lands. It's the pollution from the air and water that harms the health of neighborhoods and tribes.

So this is a project that is actually going to contribute to enhancing and preserving the environment of Cape Cod, where not only Native American tribes live but where, you know, Massachusetts citizens live.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GORDON: And we hope that this project inspires other communities to look at their offshore wind resources to develop them for a more sustainable energy future.

FLATOW: All right. Well, you've got the last word on that. Thank you for taking time to be with us, Jim Bode, CEO of Cape Wind Associates, and - Jim Gordon, I'm sorry, and Denise Bode, CEO of American Wind Energy Association. Combined the two of you into one. Thank you both for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. GORDON: Thanks, Ira.

Ms. BODE: Oh, thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

Mr. GORDON: Bye-bye.

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