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October , 2010
Monday

NCBM

National Conference of Black Mayors

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NCBM News (July 2010)
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(Boston Globe/January 5, 2010) More than 200 wind turbines could eventually spin in Massachusetts coastal waters, according to a final state ocean blueprint released yesterday that attempts to strike a balance among the growing number of competing and controversial uses of the sea.

 

The plan, the first of its kind in the nation, allows groups of coastal communities to develop seven to 24 turbines in their coastal waters, which stretch 3 miles from shore. Far larger wind farms, similar to the Cape Wind proposal in Nantucket Sound, could be built off Cape Cod near Cuttyhunk Island and adjacent to another tiny island several miles off Martha’s Vineyard.

The Patrick administration’s ocean management plan also places new layers of environmental protection on such critical resources such as fish nurseries, whale feeding areas, and endangered bird nesting areas. Developers of each proposed coastal water use - from wind turbines to sand and gravel mining to fish farms - will have to avoid the critical areas or prove such usage will not be harmful to them.

“The ocean has sustained the Commonwealth for centuries now, and now we are at long last turning our attention to a proactive approach so it can continue to provide into the future,” said Ian Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “And it does it very methodically and with the best science available.”

The plan, which would have no effect on Cape Wind because that project would be located in federal waters, is being examined by the Obama administration as it develops its own ocean policy. While states such as California have used zoning rules to balance conservation with fishing off their coasts, Massachusetts is the first to insert renewable energy into the mix.

The plan is at least the third attempt to zone the state’s ocean waters in the last two decades; other attempts collapsed amid bickering among users or stalled with no pressing need. But that has changed as wind turbines have been proposed in recent years, including off Hull and Martha’s Vineyard and in Buzzards Bay.

Several environmental groups that criticized the draft ocean plan when it was released six months ago for not having enough environmental protections praised it yesterday, saying it would lead to sensible development of renewable energy.

“The state has really stepped up to the plate,” said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based advocacy group. “It doesn’t prohibit building, but now there is a higher standard of review.”

Still, as is the case with virtually every Bay State wind farm proposal, there is controversy. A group known as Let Vineyarders Decide says large-scale wind farms off the Cape would destroy the aesthetics of the region and lead to environmental problems. The two areas set aside for commercial development would allow about 150 turbines in state waters, but state officials say they could be part of far bigger wind farms in adjacent federal waters.

“It isn’t a good plan environmentally; it is not a good plan as a matter of public policy,” said Andrew Goldman, director of Let Vineyarders Decide. He said the final plan does not consider alternatives for the large-scale wind projects. “Just to use the word green does not make it green and good,” he said.

Still, Cuttyhunk Island selectmen support a large wind project off the tiny island’s coast, saying that it is the right thing for the environment and that they hope it would cut down on astronomically high energy prices there.

Renewable energy projects were once largely off-limits in state waters, even as environmentalists and alternative energy developers were pushing for permission to build them.

But in May 2008, Governor Deval Patrick signed the state’s Oceans Act, which required environmental officials to come up with a final ocean management plan by the end of 2009.

In the final plan, the only area where development is explicitly prohibited is in the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, adjacent to the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Realistically, Bowles said, he doubts many projects will be built on the community level, because it is too expensive to make a profit on small-scale wind farms and many areas contain sensitive habitats. But now, if a group of communities wanted to build, a blueprint would be available for them.

A decision on a commercially scaled project off Nomans Land near Martha’s Vineyard would be up to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, while the community of Gosnold, which includes Cuttyhunk, would have final say on any large commercial project off its coast, according to state officials. However, the Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard commissions have raised the possibility they also have jurisdiction over the Cuttyhunk area.

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