WASHINGTON — In a decision that could boost development of wind power nationwide, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday approved the controversial offshore wind project off Cape Cod – potentially the first such installation in the United States.

The decision to grant a federal permit to the Cape Wind project was a critical step in a decade-long fight between advocates of green power and local critics, most of them local and concerned about possible adverse impacts on scenery, fishing and – in the case of some American Indians – intrusion into areas traditionally considered sacred.

Maine has an “ambitious” goal of developing 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy before 2030, according to John Kerry, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence.

“The affirmation by Ken Salazar sends a positive message to the region. If Cape Wind had been rejected, it would have had a chilling effect on other offshore wind projects in New England,” Kerry said.

Maine recently passed legislation allowing for the development of several offshore wind projects.

University of Maine Professor Habib Joseph Dagher said the approval is good for the industry, but will have a neglible impact on Maine wind farm projects.

The expertise gained from the Cape Wind project can be transferred to projects in Maine and other states, Dagher said.

“But Maine is looking at wind farms quite differently. We are going to be 10 to 30 miles offshore. People won’t be able to see them,” he said.

In September, the state will accept bids for a floating 25-megawatt wind farm. It must be 10 miles or more from any island or the mainland. The location has yet to be determined.

“The difference between Cape Wind and our Maine project is that no one is going to be able to see them. That’s why we are calling them beyond the horizon wind farms,” Dagher said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also praised the Cape Wind approval.

“Today’s announcement puts Maine one step closer to developing its offshore, deepwater wind potential,” she said in a statement.

Salazar’s decision drew immediate praise from business groups, environmentalists and some Republicans on Capitol Hill, but critics promised what is likely to be a drawn-out legal challenge.

Announcing the move in Boston, Salazar said he was “convinced there is a path we can take that both honors our responsibility to protect the historic, cultural and environmental values of Nantucket Sound and meets our need to re-power our economy with clean energy produced here at home.”

Salazar called Cape Wind “the first of many” offshore wind projects in the United States. And he said the precedent-setting potential of the Cape Wind project weighed heavily in its favor, especially since President Obama has made offshore wind a pillar of a new energy system that would reduce consumption of fossil fuels and boost alternative energy sources.

Cape Wind would string 130 turbines in Massachusetts’ scenic Nantucket Sound in an area 5 miles from shore. They could supply the majority of the power on Cape Cod and nearby islands. It has endured nine years of government reviews and political squabbling.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.