A top official with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has told federal lawmakers that the Bush Administration opposes a provision included in a Coast Guard reauthorization bill conference report that threatens to scuttle Cape Wind's proposed 420 MW wind farm offshore Cape Cod.
"As the Congress considers the conference report to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, the Administration would like to reiterate its support for wind-generated electricity, and express its concerns about a provision in the bill that would inhibit the development of this clean, domestic, renewable energy resource," wrote David Garman, under secretary of energy, in a May 4 letter to lawmakers.
"A provision that was added during conference negotiations, section 414, would single out for additional review an offshore wind project that has already been subjected to nearly five years of extensive evaluation and review at the federal, state and local levels -- a review that has involved no fewer than 17 federal, state and local agencies."
He noted that a full environmental impact statement prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers is currently undergoing further review by the Minerals Management Service -- "hence the additional reviews required by section 414 are duplicative and unnecessary."
Section 414 "would also provide the governors of adjacent coastal states with unprecedented power to veto the project, notwithstanding the fact that this project is in the federal waters of Nantucket Sound," the DOE official said.
The Bush Administration thinks that section 414 is "unwise" for several reasons, Garman told lawmakers. "The Northeastern United States has a demonstrated need for new sources of electricity to assure reliability of service and affordable electricity for the region's consumers, and this project will generate clean energy to help meet that need. Indeed, the New England Independent System Operator is counting on this project and the power it will provide."
More broadly, "singling out wind generation in this manner could have a chilling impact on the continued investment and growth of this promising renewable energy resource. For these reasons and others, we would urge that this provision be removed from the final bill that will be presented to the President for signature," wrote Garman.
Garman's letter follows news that U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) plan to block final passage of the conference report unless both the House and Senate remove the provision that threatens to scuttle the wind project.
In a May 3 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Bingaman and Domenici noted that Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating, the authority to grant leases and rights of way for energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), including wind energy. The energy bill requires consultation with state and local governments but does not give them veto authority, Domenici and Bingaman pointed out.
They also noted that a provision in the conference report for the Coast Guard reauthorization bill prohibits the construction of an offshore wind facility in the Nantucket Sound if the project is opposed in writing by the governor of Massachusetts. That state's governor, Mitt Romney, has voiced opposition to the Cape Wind project.
Bingaman and Domenici said that this section of the conference report "allows the governor of the state arbitrarily to overrule a process constituted under federal law for the consideration of such projects. There is no related provision in the Senate-passed bill, and this provision is well beyond the scope of the language in section 419 of the House-passed bill."
The senators said they will seek to block final passage of the report unless both the House and Senate pass a correcting resolution to remove the offending provision or substitute the original provision from the House bill. The House provision does not give veto authority to a governor.
The provision in the Coast Guard conference report "is absolutely contrary to our nation's growing preference for clean, renewable energy," Domenici said in a statement. "It sets a terrible precedent. I think would it be a very bad idea to give states veto authority over the siting of renewable energy projects on federal land in a bid to stop a particular project. In the energy bill, we gave states a strong voice and a key role in siting renewable projects on the OCS. That is sufficient."
Bingaman said he opposes "anti-renewable energy provisions in the Coast Guard conference report. A fair process to review renewable energy projects in Federal waters already exists. A regulatory review of the Cape Wind project is underway. To invent a new regulatory process designed simply to deliver a negative result would chill future investment in renewable energy. We need more energy sources like wind to moderate the high prices that Americans are paying for electricity, natural gas and home heating oil."
Domenici and Bingaman are chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively.
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