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The Cape Wind offshore wind project, which could be the first built in the U.S., has been approved by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The decision, announced today, comes after nearly 10 years of political opposition, environmental reviews, and most recently objections from local Indian tribes.

Because of these objections, Salazar is requiring that the project be scaled back from 170 wind turbines to 130 wind turbines and that the developer conduct more marine archeological surveys. He is also requiring “other steps” to make them less visible, such as the coloring of the turbines and their lighting.

Salazar acknowledged that the permitting process was a mess. “There’s no reason an offshore wind permit should take a decade,” he said. He’s working on streamlining the process.

Lawsuits could yet delay the project further. But Salazar thinks these can be overcome. “We are very confident that we will be able to uphold the decision against legal challenges that might be filed,” he said.

Massachusetts Governor Duvall Patrick says construction could begin within a year.

Salazar presented the project as a way to help the United States keep up with other countries’ efforts on offshore wind, such as European countries and China. But it might not make sense to “keep up” in this area. Although offshore winds provide an enormous potential resource, there are much cheaper places to generate wind power in the United States. It might make more sense to let other countries drive down costs of offshore wind while focusing on developing the cheapest possible on-shore wind power.

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Tagged: Energy, renewable energy, wind power, carbon emissions, Cape Wind

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