Cape Wind Reconfigures Plan at Horseshoe Shoal to Meet State Guidelines

By IAN FEIN

Ceding to requests from state officials, commercial fishermen and the U.S. Coast Guard, developers of the Cape Wind project last week reconfigured the layout of their hotly debated wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound.

The changes call for moving 10 turbines out of state waters and relocating another 20 turbines from deeper to more shallow water on Horseshoe Shoal, where they would pose less of an impact to navigation and fishing. The new configuration places some turbines closer to Cotuit and Craigville Beach on Cape Cod but moves others further away from Point Gammon.

The nine-mile distance between the project and both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs would remain the same, although some relocated turbines might be more visible from the Vineyard.

The project as proposed still includes 130 turbines.

If approved, the Cape Wind project will be the nation's first offshore wind farm. Developers estimate the project will produce an average output of about 170 megawatts, or enough electricity to power roughly three-quarters of the Cape and Islands.

Cape Wind developers last Thursday announced the new configuration when they filed a notice of project change with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. The public now has 20 days to submit comments about the relocation, after which state secretary of environmental affairs Ellen Roy Herzfelder will decide whether the changes are substantial enough to warrant additional study.

Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said yesterday that he does not expect that the changes will require more review.

"It's pretty obvious looking at the state's criteria that this will not trigger additional review," Mr. Rodgers said. "It's really a minor modification."

Secretary Herzfelder opted against requiring a supplemental study in March when she certified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review of the project as having adequately addressed issues within state jurisdiction.

As the project's lead permitting authority, the Army Corps last fall released a draft environmental impact statement that was highly favorable to Cape Wind.

The 3,800-page report sparked sharp debate on the Cape and Islands this winter, with other federal environmental agencies involved in the review - such as the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - calling it insufficient, misleading and inadequate.

The Army Corps is now sifting through the nearly 5,000 comments it received in response to its report, and will then decide what additional studies - if any - are required to complete its final review.

It is unclear whether the new configuration will affect the timeline of the Army Corps review. The Army Corps is not expected to release its final environmental impact statement until the end of the year, at the earliest.

Since it was first unveiled in 2001, the ambitious Cape Wind project has been at the center of an expensive and divisive battle fraught with politics. In the last four years the wind farm debate has spread from Peaked Hill to Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill.

The floor of the U.S. Senate featured talk of the Cape Wind proposal last month, when senators debated whether to offer federal tax credits for wind energy projects. The senate last Tuesday approved an energy bill that would continue the subsidies.

Tax credits are a key component in the Cape Wind project's finances. According to the Cape Cod Times, if the project was online today it would receive roughly $27 million in tax credits by the end of its first year in operation.

Cape Wind president James Gordon said this spring that the company has already spent $20 million on the project, and estimated its overall project cost as now well over $800 million.

Every day that the project is delayed during the permitting process, Mr. Gordon said, increases its construction cost and puts off any benefits that the public would enjoy.

The reconfiguration last week was in direct response to a request made by Secretary Herzfelder in March that Cape Wind remove any turbines located in state waters. The state does not allow wind turbines within the boundary of its waters, extending three miles offshore.

The original Cape Wind proposal fell entirely within federal waters, but the U.S. Minerals Management Service in February redrew the state boundary to include a rocky formation off Yarmouth, extending state waters further into Nantucket Sound.

Cape Wind's new configuration moves the turbines, at one point only 4.7 miles from Yarmouth, to the west. The closest point to the mainland is now 5.2 miles away. The new layout also slightly reduces the project's overall footprint from its original 24 square miles.

Mr. Rodgers said other changes in the configuration - such as relocating turbines from the southeastern corner of the proposed footprint - were in response to concerns about possible impacts to fishing and navigation in the area.

"While we were [moving the turbines out of state waters] we took the opportunity to reevaluate the whole wind farm area and make some other changes to try and accommodate some feedback that had been received during the public comment period," Mr. Rodgers said. "We think it makes sense. It's a more compact configuration and it will work well."