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U.S. Approves First Offshore Wind Farm

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the first U.S. offshore wind farm, giving the green light to the controversial Cape Wind project, which will place 130 huge wind turbines in the waters of Nantucket Sound.

Proposed nine years ago, Cape Wind has been a controversial subject in Massachusetts, stirring opposition from prominent residents of Cape Cod. Opponents included the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who loved to sail the waters that will now be dotted with 400-foot-tall wind turbines. Kennedy led the fight against Cape Wind until he succumbed to cancer last year.

In announcing his approval of the first U.S. offshore wind farm, Salazar called Cape Wind the start of a “new energy frontier.”

“The United States is leading a clean energy revolution that is reshaping our future,” Salazar told reporters in Boston. “Cape Wind is an opening of a new chapter in that future, and we are all part of that history.”

“Cape Wind will be the nation’s first offshore wind farm, supplying clean power to homes and businesses in Massachusetts, plus creating good jobs here in America,” Salazar added. “This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast.”

MA Gov. Deval Patrick praised the federal government’s decision. “Thank you for this decision,” said Gov. Patrick said. “With this project, Massachusetts will lead the nation. This day has been a long time coming.”

Seventeen state and federal agencies weighed in on Cape Wind, reviewing everything from its impact on shipping, aviation and fisheries. Salazar visited the Cape earlier this year and pledged to make a final decision by the end of April.

While the decision on issuing a federal permit was still pending last month, Boston-based Cape Wind signed an agreement to buy 130 wind turbines for the project from Siemens Energy Inc. Siemens concurrently announced it will open an office in Boston for U.S. offshore wind projects.

Asked why Cape Wind made the agreement before the federal government’s permitting decision, spokesman Mark Rodgers told Boston.com: “We’ve been working hard for the last year to make our selection, and now that we’ve made it, we thought, why wait?’’

Siemens Energy’s parent company, Siemens AG, based in Munich, has a U.S. headquarters in Orlando, Fla. The company’s U.S. Wind Power division has grown from one employee in December 2004 to more than 1,000 employees today. Gov. Patrick hailed the agreement with Siemens. “The opening of a local Siemens offshore wind energy office is another significant step forward for the clean energy industry we have growing in Massachusetts,’’ Patrick said in a statement.

The model of Siemens turbine that Cape Wind agreed to purchase is an industry workhorse, with 1,000 units sold and 150 units installed and successfully operating, the company said. Each is capable of generating 3.6 megawatts of power. According to the American Wind Energy Association, a megawatt of wind generates enough electricity to power 225 to 300 households for a year.

Globally, Siemens commands more than 50 percent of the world’s offshore wind market. Rodgers told Boston.com Cape Wind’s decision came down to Siemens or Vestas Wind Systems, based in Denmark.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Salazar said the approval process for Cape Wind took “far too long.” He promised that future offshore projects would follow a “more rational and orderly” process than the decade-long review and approval for Cape Wind.

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