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First offshore U.S. wind farm construction starts soon

BOSTON (Reuters) - After years of delay, construction of what is expected to be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, located off Massachusetts' picturesque Nantucket Sound, could begin as early as this fall.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said on Tuesday the federal government has approved a construction and operations plan submitted for the Cape Wind Energy Project.

"The department has taken extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind's potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound," Salazar said during a visit to Boston.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the environmental impact of the project had been reviewed thoroughly.

The project, which is being developed by Energy Management Inc, calls for 130 wind turbine generators, each with a maximum blade height of 440 feet, to be arranged in a grid pattern several miles off shore. German conglomerate Siemens AG will provide the turbines. Construction could begin as early as the fall, the Interior Department said.

The site is tucked between the mainland of the cape and the islands of Martha's Vineyard, an exclusive vacation destination, and Nantucket island.

Once fully operational, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cape Wind has faced opposition involving everyone from Indian tribes to fishermen to the Kennedy family, whose 6-acre family compound in Hyannis Port overlooks Nantucket Sound.

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey praised Tuesday's developments.

"Let's get this wind project built and keep this American clean energy momentum pushing us ahead like a down-east breeze," Markey said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Bill Trott)

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