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Panel to monitor offshore leases
A new group is being formed to address offshore leases for renewable energy projects. Now the question: Who gets a seat at the table?

On Nov. 19 a task force of local, state, Wampanoag and federal officials is scheduled to meet for the first time at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay to discuss commercial leases for projects such as wind turbines in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts.

Invitations to join the group went out Oct. 20, but the commission had not received one as of Friday.

"It's concerning given that Cape Cod comprises two-thirds of the Massachusetts coastline," Niedzwiecki wrote.

Consultation with local communities is "critical" to forming a consensus around where wind turbines and other renewable energy projects are located, said Mark Forest, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.

Officials from the Interior Department are scheduled to meet with Delahunt this week to brief him on the task force and who will be involved, Forest said.

"That's one of the things that we want to understand," Forest said of the group's makeup.

Cape Wind unaffected

Similar task forces are being formed in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.

The task force's work is not expected to affect the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, which would sit in the so-called "doughnut hole" of federal waters in the middle of the Sound. The U.S. Minerals Management Service, a division of the Department of Interior, is the lead agency to review Cape Wind and other potential leases for wind turbines on the outer continental shelf.

In addition to federal officials, the task force will include only elected state and local officials or their designated representatives, according to a draft charter document obtained by the Times.

Collaboration has worked in other states and countries, particularly in Europe; Germany zoned the North Sea for 25,000 megawatts of offshore energy in two years, Forest said.

The Cape Cod Commission is not the only group that fears being left out of the process.

A group of renewable-energy advocates, other nonprofit groups and Cape and Islands officials have written a consensus statement calling, in part, for a community group to work in parallel to the elected officials and federal agencies, said Chris Powicki, president of Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative.

"The question is, how will stakeholder groups and the public be represented?" Powicki said.

Disenfranchised

The process the state undertook to create its draft ocean management plan is an example of the disenfranchisement that is possible if all such groups are not included, he said.

Martha's Vineyard, in particular, has railed against the state's plan, which proposes two areas southwest of the island for potential large-scale wind-energy projects.

Unlike its Cape counterpart, the Martha's Vineyard Commission will have a voice on the joint task force.

The commission has received an invitation to join the task force, said William Veno, senior planner with the island agency.

And at a recent meeting with state officials about the state draft plan, island officials were told that the state's major areas of interest for wind energy development lie in federal waters, Veno said.

This came as welcome news for some islanders who questioned why the state was "experimenting" in state waters when the greatest renewable energy resources, such as wind, lie beyond the three-mile boundary with federal waters, Veno said.

But, as of now, the draft plan still leaves waters off the Vineyard open to the greatest degree of wind-energy development in the state: 166 commercial-scale turbines and another 10 community-sponsored turbines.

'A bad start'

"It's unfortunate that this has gotten off to a bad start," said Edgartown Selectman Arthur Smadbeck. Because the move to develop offshore renewable energy is so new, it is hard to blame anyone for missteps, he said.

But projects such as Cape Wind are examples of what can happen when planning is not done well, Smadbeck said.

Approval of the proposal by Cape Wind Associates LLC to build 130 turbines in the Sound is currently stalled over historic and tribal objections, including a bid to have the area listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property.

The potential listing, while not an outright death knell for the project, could lead to more significant delays in the already eight-year-long permitting process for Cape Wind. The state's historic commission is expected to decide whether the Sound is eligible for a listing this month. A final decision on the listing could come by the end of the year and, if approved, would create another series of hurdles for Cape Wind.

Attempts to rush the state's ocean management plan through a final version is due by Dec. 31 exemplify how offshore renewable energy has gotten off on the wrong foot, Smadbeck said.

"The message we are trying to send is, slow down," he said.

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