The first U.S. offshore wind farm, a giant project 5 miles/8 km off the Massachusetts coast, was approved on Wednesday after years of opposition involving everyone from local Indian tribes to the Kennedy family.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the green light for the historic 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Horseshoe Shoal, Nantucket Sound, in what supporters considered a huge step forward for renewable energy in the United States.
“This project fits with the tradition of sustainable development in the area,” Salazar said in Boston.
Although small in terms of its production — the facility would produce enough electricity to power 400,000 houses — its approval was encouraging to other offshore wind projects already proposed for the East Coast and Great Lakes.
The turbines, more than 400 feet high, will dot an area of about 24 square miles (62 square km), larger than Manhattan, and be visible low on the horizon from parts of Cape Cod. The site is tucked between the mainland of the cape and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard, an exclusive celebrity vacation destination, and Nantucket.
German conglomerate Siemens AG will provide the turbines. Construction is expected to begin before the end of the year, said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates. Power generation could begin by 2012.
The decision to approve Cape Wind, subject to certain conditions designed to protect offshore waters from damage and reduce visibility, is expected to face legal challenges, but Salazar said he was confident the approval would stand.
Supporters say wind farms represent a giant push for renewable energy efforts and reducing dependence on foreign oil, and fit well with the Obama administration’s strategy.
“Greenpeace has been campaigning to get the Cape Wind project built for nearly a decade, and today’s victory is worth celebrating. It is long overdue,” said Kert Davies, research director at the environmental group.