Congress Considers More Wind-Power Rules

Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON (AP) - The sudden burst of interest in wind power, from Cape Cod to the Smoky Mountains, has led Congress to consider a stricter approval process for wind farm projects.

The legislation, being drafted by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in discussions with Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would require local or state governments to approve the projects - tossing a potential roadblock in front of the $700 million Cape Wind plant planned for Nantucket Sound.

The Cape Wind Associates project is the first proposed offshore wind farm in the country, but many others are on the horizon and members of Congress say there is no federal regulatory process for approving the gangly producers of renewable energy.

Spiking up to 420 feet above the water, the wind turbines are towers topped with three-pronged helicopter rotors that spin with the wind to generate power.

Environmentalists praise wind power as clean energy. But opponents say local communities should have a say in the projects, which can have a broad impact on the environment and aesthetics. Lawmakers also want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to have a say in how projects fit into a region's energy needs.

Lawmakers insist the amendment - which may come up next week during Senate debate on the energy bill - is not an attempt to derail the Cape project or any other specific proposal.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Kennedy supports renewable energy. But, she said, "he has significant concerns about the lack of a regulatory framework, specifically a process through which local communities would have a say into the siting of these proposed projects."

Alexander, who has seen opposition to wind farms in northeastern Tennessee, heads the Senate energy subcommittee, and has been working on the wind power issue. But there is no agreement yet on an amendment.

Limited almost exclusively to California a decade ago, wind farms started to spread across the country in 1998. By the end of this year, they will be in about 100 locations.

"This is very new, that's why it's controversial," said Tom Gray, deputy executive director of the American Wind Energy Association.

The industry's main concern, he said, is that the legislation must not send projects - like Cape Wind - "back to square one." But he agreed that siting approvals for the wind farms vary widely state-by-state, and said, "We're open to looking at ways to handle projects built off shore."


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