A large wind farm planned for the Nantucket Sound has long divided environmentalists. Some see it as a significant boost for renewable energy—developer Energy Management estimates it would generate enough power for all of Cape Cod—while others see it as a massive intrusion into one of the most scenic shorelines in the country.
While the farm has been debated for years, a recent National Park Service finding that the Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places has thrown up a last-minute roadblock for the project. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently met with stakeholders to try to broker a deal for the site, whose Register status was based on a petition by Native American tribes in the area.
“Secretary Salazar said he had two things he needed to meet: renewable energy goals and tribal rights,” said Audra Park, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an advocacy group that has opposed the Cape Wind project, and who attended the meeting with the Secretary of the Interior. The Alliance and one of the tribes favor relocating the farm to an alternative site outside of the area bounded by Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.
Their preferred site, known as the South of Tuckernuck Island Alternative, is southeast of Nantucket. The alternative site would move the farm outside of the Register-eligible area but would be more costly for the developer, due to longer transmission lines. Park believes the Town of Barnstable, on the Cape, could offset the additional costs.
The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes petitioned the Parks Service for the eligibility of the Sound on the grounds that the 130-turbine wind farm would interfere with their cultural rituals, including their traditional sun greetings and ancestral burial grounds (the area was above water prior to the most recent Ice Age). The Park Service overturned an earlier determination by the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Officer, who declared the area ineligible. The 560-square-mile area is the first stretch of ocean that meets the Park Service criteria for listing on the Register.
The move puts the Obama Administration in a difficult position of simultaneously promoting renewable energy while balancing tribal rights. Following a rocky Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, the administration is at pains to show progress on green power. “If a project such as Cape Wind can’t get permitted and built, it’s clearly going to shake the confidence of investors in other countries around the world in our seriousness in addressing global warming and creating a clean-energy economy,” Nathaniel Greene, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Vineyard Gazette.
Public comment on the issue remains open through February 12. Three options are on the table for the project, including proceeding with the farm as planned, moving it to an alternative site or reducing the project’s area, or killing it altogether. Secretary Salazar has said that if the stakeholders fail to reach an agreement by March 1, he would issue a memorandum of agreement on how to proceed by mid-April.
A version of this article appeared in AN 02_02.03.2010.