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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Alum brings science to wind-power debate

Natale helps determine which way the wind will blow

Charles Natale Jr. has spent the last seven years with his head in the clouds—and his feet firmly planted on the seafloor.

Natale, a 1982 graduate of the Master's program at VIMS, is President & CEO of ESS Group, Inc. ESS is the lead environmental and engineering firm for Cape Wind—the first offshore wind energy project in the continental U.S.

The Cape Wind Project, proposed in 2001 for Nantucket Sound off the southern coast of Massachusetts, is designed to use 130 wind turbines to produce up to 468 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 160,000 homes. That compares to 1,500 MW of rated capacity for the coal-fired power plant recently proposed for Tidewater Virginia, and 500-1300 MW for modern nuclear facilities.

VIMS alumnus Charles Natale.Wind power is emissions-free, renewable, and domestically produced, but that is not to say that the Cape Wind project has sailed through the regulatory process unhindered.

The scope and location of Cape Wind have made environmental assessment of the project a monumental task—and provide a "test case" that Natale hopes will facilitate and streamline future environmental assessment of offshore wind farms in places like Virginia.

"The scientific studies and evaluations required for Cape Wind were pioneering in many respects," says Natale. "Our studies and the resulting impact assessments were critical to the success of the project from the perspective of public review and acceptability to the scientific community. The science had to withstand the rigors of public and stakeholder reviews for more than 7 years."

Natale expects that the Dept. of the Interior's Mineral Management Service—the project's lead federal agency—may give the final go-ahead for the project before the end of the year. Natale says this "record of decision" is likely to be appealed, but he thinks the project "will prevail in the appeal for all the right reasons."

Natale says he and his firm "are very proud that our studies and results for Cape Wind, particularly related to marine science, have not only withstood the rigorous review process but have held up as acceptable and technically sufficient for decision makers to issue positive project findings and approvals. We pioneered these regulatory processes and have put the science in play to make all this happen."