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Fate of billion dollar wind farm is up in the air

BOSTON – After eight years of review, the future of a controversial wind farm off Cape Cod now rests in what would seem to be friendly hands – an Obama administration that’s pledged to make the U.S. ‘the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.’

But it’s tough to tell if Cape Wind’s prospects just got better or worse.

Obama has never mentioned the project while talking publicly about renewable energy, despite his enthusiasm for the topic and the fact Cape Wind would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

Some Cape Wind advocates have chalked up Obama’s silence to respect for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, an early and influential Obama backer. Kennedy battled the project fiercely, writing Obama of his opposition the month before he died in August from cancer.

To add to the uncertainty, Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who pledged this month to decide whether to approve Cape Wind by the end of April, has called it ‘a good project.’ But two Obama appointees to agencies connected to the project’s review have links to its chief opposition, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

U.S. National Park Service head Jonathan Jarvis is the brother of alliance consultant Destry Jarvis. Jarvis and Federal Aviation Administration chief Randu’Babbitt has worked for the alliance. Both are recused from any decisions involving Cape Wind.

A White House spokeswoman, Moira Mack, did not respond to specific inquiries about Cape Wind, but said the administration ‘believes that investing in wind energy – on and offshore – is an important part of the transition to a low-carbon economy and has supported new policies and’investments to help realize’that goal.’

Cape Wind, expected to cost’$1 billion, aims to provide’75 percent of the Cape’s electricity with 130 turbines, each about 440 feet tall, erected in Nantucket Sound. Its developers stand to benefit as a major electricity provider to a state aiming to create enough wind power capacity to power 800,000 homes by 2020.

Opponents say the project is a hazard to aviation and wildlife and would mar historic vistas, including the view from the Kennedy compound. They want it moved out of the sound to an alternate site Cape Wind says is not feasible.

Since he took office, Obama has spoken several times about wind energy, including on Earth Day in April, saying wind energy could potentially ‘generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030.’ He also spoke about ‘enormous interest in wind projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware.’

Barbara Hill of the pro-Cape Wind group Clean Power said she finds Obama’s silence on Cape Wind ‘a bit confusing,’ because its success is so crucial to future offshore wind projects.

Sue Reid, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation and a project proponent, said she believes Obama is simply being careful not to prejudge the project before the approval process ends.

‘I think it’s a matter of him’being very principled and measured, as opposed to that he’s made up his mind somehow in opposition to the project,’she said.