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Support shifts for offshore wind farm off US east coast

A survey of residents along the northeastern US coast indicates that 57% of respondents now support a controversial offshore wind farm, up from 44% in the same survey in 2005.

The University of Delaware surveyed 463 people near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, about the proposed Cape Wind facility that would involve the installation of 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. The project was the first offshore wind project proposed in the United States, when it started the application process in 2001.

Offshore wind energy projects are now being developed off Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and are proposed in more states.

The survey found that 57% support the offshore wind project and 41% oppose it; the same survey questions in 2005 found 44% support and 56% opposed.  Respondents who said they formerly opposed the offshore wind project said they shifted their view because of the wind farm’s ability to reduce dependency on foreign oil imports and the effect on marine life or the environment.

When asked about the planning and permitting process, most found the developer to be transparent, that the planning process had been fair and local residents had a say in planning. Each of these findings is statistically significant, say survey officials.

“Some Massachusetts residents no doubt found the environmental review process lengthy,” says Jeremy Firestone of the University of Delaware. “Yet these findings, along with the shift in public opinion, suggest that the review process has informed the community about the project's benefits, relieved concerns about environmental impacts and has met citizens' needs to be fully informed before supporting a new technology.”

The survey was undertaken by researchers in the University's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration. Funding came from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, with no funding from either supporters or opponents of the offshore Cape Wind project.

For the 2009 survey, researchers divided respondents into residents near Nantucket Sound who might see the offshore wind facility and the rest of Cape Cod. Those bordering the Sound are opposed 53% to 46%, while those who do not live nearby support the project by 63%.

“This finding suggests that the project has broad support on the Cape, although the developer has yet to win the hearts and minds of residents whose view might be most affected,” explains Firestone. The results suggest that residents who previously supported the offshore wind farm tend to be more supportive now, while those who were previously opposed tend to be more opposed now.

Cape Wind Limited Liability Company says the 130 wind turbines, each of which is 40 stories tall, would be installed over a 24-square-mile area in Nantucket Sound. The wind turbines would have 170 MW of capacity to supply 75% of the average demand of residents of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island, and would displace 113 million gallons of oil imports per year.

Cape Wind Associates, the developers of the proposed offshore wind facility, says governor Deval Patrick has promised that Massachusetts Electric and Nantucket Electric will enter into negotiations for a long-term power supply contract to purchase electricity generated by the facility.

“For both reducing GHG emissions and launching the offshore wind industry that will achieve those reductions, it is essential for Cape Wind, like offshore wind in general, to move from wishful thinking to reality,” said Patrick. “A contract with an electric distribution utility like National Grid will move Cape Wind one step closer to reality.”

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