BOSTON — A federal agency approved a construction and operations plan for the Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast, clearing the way for work to begin on America's first offshore wind farm as early as this fall, U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar announced Tuesday.
Approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement was required before construction of the proposed 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound could get under way.
Salazar said the Cape Wind project, which has received other state and federal permits, could create 600 to 1,000 jobs. Nationwide, the wind power industry has the potential for tens of thousands of jobs, he said.
"The wind potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering," but the vetting process for projects to tap it is too drawn out, he said at a news conference in Boston.
"Taking 10 years to permit an offshore wind farm like Cape Wind is simply unacceptable," and the Obama administration is examining ways to streamline the permitting process so it won't take so long, Salazar said.
Yet Cape Wind itself still faces hurdles.
Opponents have filed nearly a dozen lawsuits against state and local agencies designed to block the project, saying the turbines could harm the pristine environment of Nantucket Sound.
"It's a national treasure that should not be industrialized," said Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, who attended the event in Boston.
Developers of the 468-megawatt project also are still shopping for a buyer for about half the power the turbines are expected to generate.
Cape Wind Associates vice president Dennis Duffy told reporters he is confident the project will find a buyer for the remaining energy.
He said that even though the energy produced by the wind farm could cost the average ratepayer an extra $1.50 a month on their utility bill, wind power is essentially exempt from the fluctuations in other energy markets.
As many as 11 other coastal states are currently looking at developing offshore wind farms, including Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.