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Cape Wind Gets a Big Boost: Clean Offshore Wind Power on the Way

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My favorite offshore wind project, Cape Wind, just cleared a major hurdle today, landing a $150 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. This is a project that should capture your imagination; for me, it is a symbol of our national commitment to clean energy.

The Cape Wind project, to be located about five miles offshore in Nantucket Sound, is the nation’s first, and one of the world’s largest, offshore wind projects. It will deliver as much as 450 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity, enough to power about 200,000 homes. In doing so, it will back down coal and natural gas plants in the region, and cut heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions by about 750,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking about 175,000 cars off the road.

One of the best aspects of the project is its offshore location. Nantucket Sound is famous for strong, steady winds, and Cape Wind‘s power will be available when we need it most—on hot summer days and cold winter nights.

And it will help with a big problem in New England—our overreliance on natural gas. Last winter, for example, during the cold snap known as the polar vortex, our gas supplies were constrained, prices went through the roof, and we faced the prospect of doing without an adequate supply of gas for heat and electricity. Data shows that Cape Wind would have been running almost around the clock on those days, offering a reliable alternative to gas-fired plants.

Even more exciting, Cape Wind is just the beginning of an offshore wind industry for the United States. The cost curve for offshore wind will decline (as it has for onshore wind), and the federal government just announced that it is setting aside large tracts of seabed farther offshore in the Atlantic ocean for much larger wind projects that could produce thousands, rather than hundreds of megawatts of clean power.

So why has the Cape Wind project taken so long to get built? The primary culprit is—can you guess?—a Koch brother, Bill Koch. He and others who own mansions along Nantucket Sound don’t want to look at turbines that are about the size of a thumbnail at the edge of the horizon. And, given his fossil fuel holdings, he also probably doesn’t want a viable offshore wind industry to compete. Mr. Koch’s misnamed group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, has filed twenty-six lawsuits against the project, and lost every one of them, but the appeals are still ongoing.

This is where the loan guarantee comes in. The guarantee should give investors confidence in providing funding, even while the appeals are pending. And the fact that the United States government is behind the project speaks volumes about its merit.

So I say the time for this project has finally come, and I give kudos to the Department of Energy for backing Cape Wind at a critical time. I look forward to Cape Wind completing its financing this fall and starting construction next year.

Posted in: Energy, Fossil Fuels, Global Warming

About the author: With more than 30 years of experience in government, environmental policy, and advocacy, Ken Kimmell joined UCS as president in May 2014. Prior to joining UCS, he served as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). As commissioner, he served as chairman of the board of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), helping to prod the nine member states to reduce power plant carbon emissions by almost 50 percent through 2020, avoiding some 90 million tons of emissions in the region. See Ken's full bio.

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  • Ed Dodge

    Its worth noting that leading environmentalist Robert Kennedy was also one of the major opponents of Cape Wind.

    • Richard Solomon

      I might be wrong but Kennedy’s objections were a case of NIMBY. He supports wind power in theory but he has a home there as well. So, he did not want to be looking at wind turbines on the horizon for ‘aesthetic reasons.’

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