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Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Kerry yet to take a position on giant wind-power project

By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter

STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A scientific monitoring station operates on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, where Cape Wind Associates wants to build 130 wind-turbine towers. The Cape Cod shoreline is 6- miles in the distance.
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NANTUCKET, Mass. — From his family's island vacation home here that fronts the sea, John Kerry relishes the chance to hook into his windsurfing gear and sail as far as 35 miles across Nantucket Sound to Cape Cod.

On the campaign trail, when Kerry talks about U.S. energy independence, he cites the wind as part of a massive, new effort to develop U.S. renewable-energy sources.

"I believe we can — and should — produce 20 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020," Kerry said in a June 2003 speech on energy delivered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Twenty by 2020 — now that's a clear vision for America."

But Kerry's vision is not yet clear on whether he supports the largest wind-power project ever proposed in the United States. The project would erect 130 turbine-topped towers in the middle of blustery Nantucket Sound, a site touted by the developer as the best wind-power site in New England.

So far, Kerry has balked at endorsing the project, saying he is waiting to review an Army Corps of Engineers draft report expected to be released later this fall.

"I believe that wind energy can, and should play an important role in supplying a portion of our future energy needs," Kerry said in a written response to The Seattle Times. "The Cape Wind project is the first of its kind in the nation. And like ... major environmental groups, I will wait until the Environmental Impact Study is complete before making a final decision on the project."

Republicans have taken note of Kerry's noncommittal stance on the project in his home state even as he preaches the virtues of alternative energy in campaign stops around the nation. And the Republican National Committee Web site portrays that as another example of what it says are Kerry's contradictory policy stances.

Kerry's cautious approach to the Nantucket project reflects the intense controversy the project has generated since first disclosed in 2001.

Spun by offshore breezes, the project's wind turbines — on an average day — could supply about 75 percent of the power demand of the Cape Cod area, including Nantucket Island, power that might otherwise be supplied by an oil-fired or coal-fired power plant that emits carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

Some renewable-energy advocates, including Greenpeace, have embraced the project as an important step in easing the nation's reliance on foreign oil and combating global warming.

Craigville Beach's waterfront homes look out across Nantucket Sound where Cape Wind wants to build a wind-power park. Opponents say it would despoil the area.
"This is what leadership is all about," said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace USA. "He [Kerry] can tell the story about why we need this."

But critics — and there are plenty to be found on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket — raise concerns about the effects on birds, fish, whales and navigation. And, they say that their beloved Sound — a place cherished by whale watchers, boaters, fishermen and millions of other New Englanders — is the wrong place for an industrial-scale wind-power project.

"As noble as is the concept of clean energy, I dare to argue that it's different here," wrote Brian Tarcy a Falmouth, Mass., resident in an opinion piece published in the Cape Cod Times on April 23. "Is this so hard to figure out? This is our Yosemite, our Grand Canyon. That's the argument, period."

For Kerry, the debate also is complicated by the vehement opposition of a close political ally, Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose Hyannis Port compound on Cape Cod would be among the closest shore points to the project. Kennedy's front lawn would be just six miles from the nearest turbines, which would be clearly visible on sunny days.

But Kerry also has political allies who are backing the $750 million project, including Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, the Nantucket project developer. Gordon is a Boston neighbor to Kerry and has raised funds for his campaign. And he hasn't been shy about pressing the merits of the project to Kerry.

"I have been to his office a couple of times to talk about the project," Gordon said. "He [Kerry] wants to see the [Corps of Engineers] environmental-impact statement, and that is certainly a reasonable position. We are convinced that when it is complete, that it will show a compelling public-interest benefit."

The project would have a significant footprint.

The towers would rise about 250 feet above the ocean and would support gargantuan turbine blades that, when extended in a vertical position, would rise another 170 feet or so, creating a total height roughly two-thirds that of Seattle's Space Needle.

These turbine-topped towers would be spaced in a grid pattern over 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound in a shallow-water area known as Horseshoe Shoal that lies between Cape Cod and Nantucket Island.

The Cape Wind proposal is part of a broader wave of wind-energy projects taking hold around the nation. Washington — with vast windy expanses east of the Cascades — is at the forefront with 254 megawatts of power installed last year, the sixth-highest capacity in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Many of these projects have been spurred by a federal tax credit that Congress has yet to renew.

The Cape Wind project would be the first U.S. project to be located offshore. It follows the development pattern of offshore projects in Europe and a proposal to build a 700-megawatt wind plant off Prince Rupert, B.C.

But the United States does not have a comprehensive plan to regulate offshore wind power, or even to collect royalties or lease fees from those developers who erect towers in federal waters. Such regulatory gaps prompted the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, in a major review that Kerry helped to launch, to conclude that the current permitting process for offshore wind power is inadequate.

Still, proponents say that such shortcomings are no reason to delay the project, with construction scheduled to begin as soon as next year.

In the meantime, everyone is waiting to see if the plan passes muster with the Army Corps of Engineers, and the junior Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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