The progress of offshore wind energy in the Atlantic could be slowed by cuts resulting from sequestration. That's according to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who spoke at an offshore wind power conference being held in Boston this week.
The waters and seabed of Nantucket Sound connect Cape Cod to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, where cold currents meet the warm Gulf Stream, where habitats range from open water to tidal flats, marshes and estuaries.
In the summer months, vacationers come from around the world, fishermen make their living, and gulls, seals and lobster are among the thousands of species thriving. In 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar paid a visit, to get a better sense of the proposed Cape Wind farm that has divided local residents.
"I think the worst thing that we can do for the country is to be in a state of indecision,” Salazar said at the time. “And this application has been in a state of indecision for a very long time."
Secretary Salazar looked out over the proposed Cape Wind site from the deck of a Coast Guard vessel, and acknowledged the objections he'd been hearing from the Wampanoag tribe.
"It is important for us to respect the nation's first Americans. And experience some of what they experience," he said in 2010.
But now, nearly two years after Cape Wind was formally approved, completing its federal permitting process, Salazar returned to Massachusetts. He told the audience at this week's offshore wind conference that he wants to see Cape Wind break ground – or, break water – in 2013.
"Cape Wind could be essentially the standard bearer of having been the first of the offshore wind projects that actually is putting electrons on the grid," he said.
But Salazar said mandatory budget cuts under sequestration could delay the review and permitting processes for new developments. He did say sales of leases to offshore wind developers in waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts would take place this year. He identified those "areas of interest" -- between Block Island and Martha's Vineyard -- where Providence-based Deepwater Wind has proposed a wind farm.
"We are going through competitive lease sales because there's more than one company that is interested,” Salazar said. “And so whenever we offer to lease a part of the ocean floor and we have multiple companies that indicate an interest because it's a public resource, we have to put it up for a lease sale, just the way we do in oil and gas."
But Salazar declined to give a specific date for the auctions. The crowd at the conference was made up of about 150 offshore wind developers, investors and utility regulators, including Cape Wind president Jim Gordon.
"We're optimistic that the project is going to commence construction this year,” Gordon said. “It's an important project. It's going to help catalyze an emerging industry in Massachusetts. The commonwealth is investing a lot of money in trying to make this area the hub of the offshore industry for the United States."
And while there weren't any vocal opponents in the audience, they're paying attention from afar.
"Cape Wind has been saying since 2004 or 2005 that it will be constructing next year," said Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. "It's no surprise that Secretary Salazar endorsed Cape Wind today. He's been historically supportive of it and of a green agenda at any cost. But in this case it is irresponsible to support a project that is so high-cost to Massachusetts rate payers and that doesn't belong in the middle of a national treasure."
But Gordon said despite lawsuits from opponents, he hopes for continued support at the federal level. Salazar has announced that he is stepping down from his position at the end of next month, but assured the audience the Obama administration is also eager to see offshore wind develop in the U.S.