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Cape Wind project approved

The Interior Department has approved the Cape Wind project, clearing the way for the first offshore wind power in the US.

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"America needs offshore wind power," Patrick said. "The US is 20 years behind Europe, and China is pulling ahead." The project, he said, is already bringing new jobs to the state, citing a new wind-blade turbine test facility and a turbine manufacturer, Siemens, that would locate in the Bay State. "If we get clean energy right, the whole world will be our customer."

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Some energy industry analysts agreed.

"This is a very symbolic step for the offshore wind industry," says Matt Kaplan, a senior wind industry analyst at IHS Emerging Energy Research in Cambridge, Mass. "Cape Wind has been the offshore wind pioneer in the US. If the project is completed, it would signal the beginning of a new industry in the US."

The move, however, is likely to displease the family of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose property overlooks the seascape where the wind turbines will be built. They have long opposed the project.

But Sen. John Kerry (D) of Mass. has indicated that he will support it..

On Monday, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha's Vineyard announced that it would file suit if Salazar approved the project. The group has said wind turbines would disturb a region sacred to it.

Others were also phoning their lawyers. "We're absolutely taking legal action," says Patty Dineen, a spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Responding to reporters' questions, Salazar said he was confident that his decision – backed up by nine years of environmental and other reviews – would hold up in court: "There's no question in my mind that the review has been thorough."

While US wind energy resources are massive, most are on land in the wind-swept Plains states. There are already more than 35,000 megawatts of land-based wind power in America today – but none offshore.

Much potential in offshore wind power

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has projected that 90,000 megawatts of power could be had in shallow US waters alone.

A Department of Energy study found that the US could generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind energy – about 300,000 megawatts. Of that total, about one-sixth – or 54,000 megawatts of capacity – could come from offshore wind.

For many environmentalists, the approval of the project was a big step in the fight against global warming, substituting wind for fossil fuel-based energy.
"It's going to have a huge impact," says Sean Garren, a spokesman for Environment America. "Some of the best wind resources in the country are off our shores. We need to get going harnessing those clean resources."

IN PICTURES: The answer is blowing in the wind

Editor's Note: The original article misstated the number of megawatts of land-based wind power in the United States today.