Correction to This Article
A May 14 article about controversies over wind power projects described Cape Cod landowner Bill Koch as a major GOP donor. Koch has given money to both Democrats and Republicans, with the majority of his donations going to Democrats.

A Storm Blows In Along With the Wind

Cape Wind Associates wants to erect 130 large wind turbines, like the one pictured here, in Nantucket Sound. Critics of the proposed wind farm say it will damage marine and bird life, ruin scenic views and harm the tourism industry.
Cape Wind Associates wants to erect 130 large wind turbines, like the one pictured here, in Nantucket Sound. Critics of the proposed wind farm say it will damage marine and bird life, ruin scenic views and harm the tourism industry. (By Stephan Savoia -- Associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Proponents of the Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound say wind farms like it will help wean the country from dependence on foreign oil. Opponents suggest it will harm the area's environment, scenic views and economy. And both sides insist wealthy interests are doing their best to manipulate the decision-making process by hiring high-priced lobbyists and cutting backroom deals on Capitol Hill.

The fight over Cape Wind -- a 130-turbine wind farm that would span 24 square miles of federal waters off the Massachusetts coast -- highlights how development of alternative energy remains a complex and often contentious business.

After years of failed plans and minimal growth, the nation's installed wind capacity grew 35 percent last year. On Thursday, Texas officials approved the nation's largest offshore wind farm -- which when built will be able to power 125,000 homes. One wind farm is operating in West Virginia, with more applications pending in that state as well as in Maryland and Virginia. But small communities in Vermont, Massachusetts and elsewhere have fought stubbornly to block wind farms, and some operators are struggling with a shortage of turbines and the challenge of transmitting wind-generated electricity to more populated areas.

"The wind industry is not in a mature phase in the U.S., but it has a good future," said Michael Liebreich, who heads London-based New Energy Finance, which analyzes clean energy projects.

"It's part of the answer" to the energy crisis, he added, but "we're not going to get rid of oil and coal and nuclear power in the next 20 years."

For the moment, projects such as Cape Wind often still face formidable obstacles. Last month, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted language into a Coast Guard reauthorization bill to allow Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) to kill the project, a move Stevens and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) defended on the floor Tuesday.

The maneuver has put the bill in limbo: New Mexico Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R) and Jeff Bingaman (D), who sit atop the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said they will filibuster the bill unless Stevens's language comes out. "It's not normal for Congress to be trying to legislate a particular energy project around the country," Bingaman said in an interview.

Kennedy, whose family's famed compound in Hyannis Port looks out on Nantucket Sound, has led the fight against Cape Wind. He said he opposes the venture on policy rather than personal grounds.

"That is a giveaway of public land that belongs to the country," he said in an interview, noting there was no competitive bidding on the wind farm and the developer would reap tens of millions in federally funded tax credits for renewable energy. "Those credits are coming from working families."

Kennedy and groups such as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which is financed in part by major GOP donor and Cape Cod landowner Bill Koch, assert that the venture will damage a delicate marine sanctuary and the area's value as a tourist attraction. The development will rival the size of Manhattan, boasting turbines with blades stretching as high as 426 feet mounted on piles driven into the ocean bottom 80 feet below.

"There are serious environmental, safety and economic implications for the people of Massachusetts, and the developer is trying to keep them out of sight," Kennedy said, adding that he is not opposed to the project because he owns land there. "If this was about self-interest, I'd have a different voting pattern than I've had for 43 years in the U.S. Senate."

Massachusetts residents, along with their congressional delegation, appear divided.


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