Wind farm supporters try to turn tide against Young amendment

Representatives of a company proposing a wind farm in Nantucket Sound met congressional staff last week to head off a proposal pushed by Rep. Don YoungDon YoungOvernight Energy: Perry takes heat for sexual assault comments | Clovis withdraws nomination for USDA post | Battle lines drawn on Arctic refuge drilling | Energy regulator back to full strength Senators spar over proposal to drill in Alaska wildlife refuge Rep. Pramila Jayapal takes sexist arrows and fights back MORE that would kill the project.

Young (R-Alaska) wants to add to a Coast Guard regulation bill a provision to prohibit wind turbines from being built within one and a half nautical miles of shipping or ferry lanes.

Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind, the company looking to build the wind farm off Nantucket, said the measure would kill the project, which has been controversial since its inception. Some of the area’s most famous residents, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), oppose the project.

A conference committee may begin debating the Coast Guard reauthorization bill this week, as Congress returns from its weeklong recess.

In town to address a convention sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association, Cape Wind President James Gordon also met with congressional staffs of members who are on the conference and urged them to reject Young’s amendment, Rodgers said.

The provision was not in either the Senate or House version of the Coast Guard bill, but in a Feb. 15 letter addressed to conferees Young said Congress needs to act quickly. He cited studies done in the United Kingdom that raised concerns that large wind turbines of the type proposed for Nantucket Sound could impair navigational radar at distances up to 10 miles away, with a zone of “extreme caution” out to 1.5 miles.

The Cape Wind project would fall within the 1.5 miles.

“We must deal with the issue now in order to appropriately and safely advance the development of offshore wind energy,” Young wrote.

The issue sets up an odd political alliance: Young, a big backer of oil and gas companies, and Kennedy, a strong advocate of environmental causes.

Instead of heralding a new atmosphere of bipartisanship, however, Rodgers said the Young provision sniffs of business as usual.

Lawmakers have talked about a process that is “more transparent and less influenced by special interests and lobbyists,” Rodgers said. But, he added: “This amendment is going in the wrong direction.”

Gordon sent a sharp response to Young on Feb. 21 stating that four years of federal and state reviews raised no questions about navigational issues. The letter also noted that the United Kingdom only bans wind turbines within 500 meters of a major shipping lane, the letter added. Cape Wind would meet that standard.

“Despite your assertions to the contrary, it is clear that your objective is to legislatively block the Cape Wind project, for reasons that remain unstated,” Gordon wrote.

Navigational issues aren’t the first questions raised about the Cape Wind project. Alternately denigrating the project as an eyesore and a threat to a fragile ecosystem, the local fight had shifted to Washington before Young’s move, with each side hiring lobbyists to help make its case.

Opponents have formed the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has retained Perkins Coie.

Cape Wind, meanwhile, has hired DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Capitol City Group.

As planned, 130 turbines would be built about six miles off the coast of Nantucket. The turbines would stand about 417 feet tall and would provide 420 megawatts of power — enough to meet about 75 percent of the energy needs for Cape Cod and surrounding islands, Rodgers said.