A wind power plant proposed for the shallow waters south of Cape Cod would do no major harm to birds and other marine life and could lead to significant public health benefits by reducing pollution, according to a long-awaited government report released Monday.
The developers of the controversial project and several environmental groups, which claim it would reduce pollution and help minimize U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, said the nearly 4,000-page draft document undermines some of the most frequently voiced arguments against the wind farm.
If a permit is granted after a 60-day public comment period and a final environmental report, construction could begin next year on what would be the nation's first offshore wind power facility.
"The data is overwhelmingly positive and validates all the years of effort and time that we've invested in this project," said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, the company behind the $700 million proposal to build about 130 turbines.
After selections from an executive summary of the report were published by two local newspapers Monday, the full version was posted on the Web site of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' New England District, which has permit power over offshore development and which conducted the study with the help of 16 state and federal agencies.
Among the findings are that about one bird per day could be killed by the 420-foot turbines, not enough to significantly affect species populations, and a projected overall savings of $53 million per year in pollution-related health costs.
It also projected that scenic views from some popular vacation communities would be affected with the machines visible from shore but found that property values would not suffer.
Opponents of the project, who are backed by several prominent Massachusetts politicians, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), whose family owns a home on Cape Cod, have argued for more extensive federal regulations to guide offshore development.
"What we have is an ad hoc process with no guidelines in place, and by their own admission the Corps does not have the expertise to deal with this type of process," said Susan Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect the Nantucket Sound, which has resisted the project on environmental and aesthetic grounds.
She also maintained that the objectivity of the study was compromised because Cape Wind funded and collaborated in the research. Federal law requires a private developer to pay for such assessments.
Larry Rosenberg, a Corps spokesman, dismissed criticisms that the process was biased or otherwise unsound. "We have fulfilled our role to be an honest broker and run an inclusive process," he said.
Though in its nascent stages in the United States, offshore wind power is widely used in Europe. Cape Wind Associates says that in normal weather conditions it could generate some 170 megawatts of power -- 75 percent of the amount used by Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.