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Interior Secretary sets deadline for Cape Wind

Ken Salazar sets process for coming to a conclusion on Cape Wind offshore wind project, which he says must balance renewable energy against historic preservation.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. PT with corrected time line.

Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior, on Wednesday said a final decision on the controversial Cape Wind proposal will be made by the end of April.

Salazar met with interested parties on Wednesday in Washington to hear arguments for and against the offshore wind project, which would be first offshore wind installation in the U.S. Following the three meetings, there is now a formal process for deciding whether the Cape Wind project will be approved or rejected, which will include public comments until February 13, followed by a final decision.

The Interior Department needs to balance between two national goals--increasing renewable energy output and historic preservation, Salazar said during a press conference following the meetings.

The location of the proposed 130-turbine wind farm is Nantucket Sound, which earlier this month was ruled eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places because of the spiritual attachment of local Native American tribes to the area.

Location of proposed offshore wind farm. Cape Wind

Either the parties could agree to a memorandum of understanding to "address the adverse impact and provide mitigation," Salazar said. Or, formal consultations between parties will be cut off and a final decision will be made by the Interior Department.

"I think nine years after an application was filed for a permit, to have it continuing to face a future of uncertainty is bad for everybody involved," he said. The project would cost more than $1 billion to develop and provide enough electricity to supply about 70 percent of Cape Cod's needs.

Clean-energy advocates, native groups, and local government officials expressed their positions, which Salazar said were diametrically opposed.

But he did indicate that there was room for compromise by confining the area of the proposed turbines or decreasing the number of turbines. Moving the site of the proposed wind farm to the south of Nantucket Island, as suggested by the main local opposition group and native Indian representatives, would require a completely new application, he said.

The fate of Cape Wind will not define how the offshore wind industry develops along the Atlantic, which Salazar said will be "successful and robust."

There is concern among wind developers that listing a body of water like the Nantucket Sound under the Register of Historic Places will have a chilling effect on the development of offshore wind, something Salazar said he will consider in his final decision.