The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a determination on Wednesday that finds construction of Cape Wind’s 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, Mass., would pose no hazard to air navigation. The decision was issued as a congressional House committee probes whether the FAA disregarded safety concerns when it issued a prior approval of the nation’s first offshore wind project. 

The FAA’s “Does Not Exceed (DNE)” determination was made after the agency completed an aeronautical study and determined that proposed construction of the 130 wind turbines, “individually and as a group, has no effect on aeronautical operations,” the agency said.  “Therefore, the FAA concludes that the project, if constructed as proposed, poses no hazard to air navigation.”

The determination says an upgrade to the radar in the area, as part of a national effort, should ensure there is no radar interference, but Cape Wind should set aside $15 million to fix any problems.

“After years of careful aeronautical review of Cape Wind, we are pleased once again to receive FAA approval in the form of this ‘Determination of No Hazard’,”  the project’s developers said on Wednesday. Cape Wind noted this would be the fourth ‘Determination of No Hazard’ it had received from the FAA since the agency began its review of the project in 2002. If the project does not begin construction within 18 months—when FAA decisions that a project presents no hazard expire—Cape Wind will likely need to seek another decision.

The FAA’s third no-hazard determination issued in 2010 was remanded by a federal appeals court last October, finding that the federal agency erroneously focused just on whether the turbines met the technical definition of obstruction (whether they exceeded 500 feet) without considering separately whether they would interfere with air navigation.

In July, as POWERnews reported, two Republican lawmakers launched a congressional investigation to probe allegations that FAA officials felt political pressure to approve the Cape Wind project despite internal and external concerns over its safety. The lawmakers’ investigation was launched after the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group opposed to the project, unearthed e-mails, action items, and other materials that reportedly “show that FAA officials were keenly aware of the political implications of the Cape Wind decision."

The FAA on Wednesday said, pointedly, that it makes “obstruction evaluations based on safety considerations and the available solutions to mitigate potential risks.”

The Cape Wind project, proposed in 2001, has run into various legal setbacks and suffered several delays. Developers now say they have sold  more than 75% of the project’s power in long-term power purchase agreements with Massachusetts utilities and have commenced the project financing stage. Construction on the 440-feet-high turbines is slated to begin in 2013, and the project could begin generating power in 2015.

Though it is rated at 468 MW, its average anticipated output is 182 MW. The project includes a 66.5-mile buried submarine transmission cable system, an electric service platform, and two 115-kV lines connecting to the mainland power grid.

Sources: POWERnews, FAA

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)