Panel advises against Cape Cod wind project

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal advisory panel urged the U.S. Interior Department on Friday to block a $1 billion wind project off Cape Cod opposed by local business leaders and politicians but seen as helpful to the Obama administration’s energy strategy.

Cape Wind Associates LLC has proposed building 130 wind towers that would soar 440 feet above the surface of Nantucket Sound near the popular Massachusetts tourist areas of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island.

The proposed wind farm would provide electricity to about 400,000 homes but would be within view of the popular resorts. It would be the country’s first major offshore wind farm.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, however, said the project would adversely affect 34 historic properties, including 16 historic districts, 12 individually significant historic properties and six properties of religious and cultural significance to local Indian tribes.

“The indirect and direct effects of the project on the collection of historic properties would be pervasive, destructive and, in the instance of seabed construction, permanent. By their nature and scope, the effects cannot be adequately mitigated at the proposed site,” it said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had asked the panel for advice but does not have to follow its recommendations when deciding whether to give the green light to the project.

The Obama administration is keen to increase the amount of electricity generated from wind and solar power and other forms of renewable energy, which could help reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“Secretary Salazar appreciates the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s expeditious review of these important issues. He will fully and carefully consider the information and recommendations provided by the Council as he moves forward to make a final decision on the Cape Wind power project,” Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said.

The panel’s recommendation came two days after Cape Wind’s developers chose Siemens AG to provide the turbines for the project.

“The final approval of the Cape Wind offshore wind farm will be key to the success of the offshore wind industry in the U.S.,” Randy Zwirn, President and CEO of Siemens Energy, said.

Reporting by Tom Doggett; editing by Paul Simao