Federal Appeals Court Overturns FAA Ruling On Cape Wind's Turbines


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Federal Appeals Court Overturns FAA Ruling On Cape Wind's Turbines

By Mike Mitchell

October 30, 2011 - On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the FAA May 17, 2010 ruling that Cape Wind's turbines would present no hazard to local air traffic control and aircraft. The court ruled that the FAA misread its own rules when the agency came to its decision.  

The Cape Wind Project, which was first proposed in 2001, is an offshore wind mill farm that was scheduled to build 130 wind turbines 400-foot tall by a private developer, Cape Wind Associates in Nantucket Sound, off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The project would be the first offshore wind energy project in United States coastal waters at a projected cost of $2.5 billion.  

The project received full approval by local, state and federal authorities. However, Barnstable and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket has apposed the project from its inception due to environmental concerns, spoil the charm of Nantucket Sound and pose navigational threats to aircraft. As a result both Barnstable and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket (plaintiffs) filed suit against the FAA?s May 17th ruling.

The decision by the court to vacate the FAA's "no hazard" finding will now further delay this decade old debate. The court sent the case back to the FAA on the grounds that the FAA misread its regulations. Jim Peters, FAA spokesman stated the FAA will review the courts finding and is unclear it the FAA will need will need to start the process over again.

Mark Rodgers, Communications Director, Cape Wind stated ?the FAA has reviewed Cape Wind for eight years and repeatedly determined that Cape Wind did not pose a hazard to air navigation. The essence of today?s court ruling is that the FAA needs to better explain its Determination of No Hazard. We are confident that after the FAA does this, that their decision will stand and we do not foresee any impact on the project?s schedule in moving forward.   

?Really, today?s court decision doesn?t change things very much because our existing Determination of No Hazard (the 3rd we have received since we started with this project) was set to expire in just 90 days and we were going to have to re-apply at that time anyway, this lets us begin that process sooner.?


Audra Parker from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket stated ?The U.S. Court of Appeals today issued a resounding victory for the Cape and Islands community and the citizens of Massachusetts. The court ruling revoked a previous no hazard determination by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and found that the FAA failed to consider the very real dangers and risks to the operations and safety of the 400,000 flights that transit Nantucket Sound each year. This represents a major setback for an already struggling project. The decision is further reason for the Patrick Administration to stop its attempts to force the state?s second largest electric utility, NStar, to purchase energy from a project that will never be built.? 

?As a result of today?s decision, Cape Wind cannot begin construction or proceed with the project.  The FAA case is the first of multiple federal lawsuits challenging this poorly sited and expensive project and is just the tip of the iceberg of the problems the courts will consider relative to the Nantucket Sound location. ?It is time for Cape Wind and the Department of Interior to relocate this project to another site that will not only protect Nantucket Sound, but allow properly sited offshore wind development in a timely way.  

?After ten years, Cape Wind continues to face legal and financial challenges, while better and cheaper forms of green energy are widely available. The free market has shown little or no interest in Cape Wind, the federal government has refused to issue a loan guarantee for the project, and now a federal court has dealt Cape Wind a major setback in rejecting the FAA?s determination.? 

The Cape Wind Project will cover a footprint of 24 square miles, 4.8 miles from Mashpee, on the south coast of Cape Cod, and 15.8 miles from the island town of Nantucket. The turbines would be sited 4?11 miles offshore depending on the shoreline. The project received all the necessary state and local pre-construction approvals by 2009 and all major federal approvals were obtained by May 17, 2010, with lease details, and construction and operation permits to be granted as the project proceeded.

It was estimated that the Cape Wind Project would generate 454 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity, enough to meet the needs of 420,000 homes. The project is expected to produce an average of 170 megawatts of electricity, about 75% of the average electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Island combined. It could offset close to a million tons of carbon dioxide every year and produce enough electricity to offset the consumption of 113 million US gallons of oil annually.

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