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Cape Wind: For Real?

The Cape Wind project has cleared its final regulatory hurdles, and developers expect construction to begin this year. NIMBY activists, however, aren't giving up.

For more than a decade  the prospect of a wind farm in Nantucket Sound has sparked imaginations and spurred debate. At times it looked like a pipe dream, but the project is now fully permitted and construction is expected to begin in the next year. Jim Gordon, president of Energy Management Inc. -- the company developing the Cape Wind project -- spoke with Green Utility about the benefits of offshore wind power, and the challenges of developing the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

GU: How did your company get involved with wind energy?

JG: EMI has been developing energy projects in New England for the past 36 years. And our company successfully developed a number of biomass and natural gas-fired power plants from the ’80s up until around 2000, when we transitioned into developing renewable energy projects. So we’re not new kids on the block.

GU: Why did you decide to focus on offshore wind?

JG: We spent a year exploring New England to find the optimal site for a utility-scale wind farm. We looked in the mountains of northern New England, and out in western Massachusetts. There’s wind there, but the east is densely populated and we don’t have the availability of land like we do out west or in the plains states. So we looked across the Atlantic to see what the Europeans were doing. Sweden and in Denmark were beginning their offshore wind industry, and we saw that Massachusetts and Denmark share some similar geographic qualities.

We found a shallow shoal in Nantucket Sound called Horseshoe Shoal. It was away from the shipping lanes, the ferry lanes, and it was outside of the air-flight path. It was very shallow, so it didn’t have a lot of boating traffic. It had very strong wind, and a low wave regime, because it was sheltered by Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Also it had reasonable proximity to the grid. It really possessed the optimal siting criteria. So we came up with a plan to develop America’s first offshore wind farm: 130 wind turbines, spaced a third to a half a mile apart. The project would produce, on average, over 75 percent of the cape and island’s electricity demand.

GU: Why is each turbine so far apart from the next one?

JG: That’s right. So shallow-draft vessels that want to fish or offer eco-tours can come on in. There’s plenty of room to navigate. Also you space the wind turbines apart, get the optimum production efficiency. You don’t want wind wake, where the wind turbines interfere with one another. It’s just like when an airplane takes off. You have to wait if you’re next in line, because you don’t want to get in the wake. So the project has been designed by meteorologists and engineers for optimum production efficiency within the existing wind regime and site.

GU: I understand that federal regulators just released the final plan for how the project will be built and operated. What’s the gist of that?

JG: Offshore wind is regulated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulations. It used to be Minerals Management Service;

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