One of the more interesting (and important) stories to come out of the news in the past week was the federal government’s approval of the nation’s first offshore wind farm to be built off the coast of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound. The wind farm has been a source of bitter conflict and heated debate for the last 9 years, as clean energy advocates did battle with the rich and powerful, animal welfare groups, and Native Americans. The announcement was made Wednesday to allow the plans for the 130 turbine wind farm to proceed. But anyone who knows anything about Massachusetts politics knows that this is far from the end of the debate. Immediately following the announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a coalition of groups opposing the wind farm said that they will sue in order to stop the project.
The 9 year story of the wind farm and the debate that continues to rage over it is a complex mire of politicking, hidden agendas, common sense, clean energy, and muddled democracy. At stake is essentially the future of clean energy in America, as it is speculated that the success of this project could lend positive momentum to similar offshore wind farm proposals up and down the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to creating “green” jobs, and starting America down the road towards more widespread use of renewable energy, as the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the Cape Wind project would begin to bring the U.S. in line with other partially wind powered nations, some of which have been harnessing offshore wind energy for 20 years now.
But opposition to Cape Wind has been fierce and multi-faceted. Despite a federal review of the issue, environmental groups claim that the wind farm will endanger the well-being of wildlife, including fish and aquatic birds, as well as disrupting air and sea traffic. Local Wampanoag Native American tribes are also fighting against the project, claiming that it will be sited upon ancestral burial grounds (the part of the ocean floor where Cape Wind is to be situated was once above sea level), and will disturb Wampanoag spiritual rituals which require an unblocked view of the sun rising above the horizon. But the most persistent argument against the wind farm is that the 130 turbines will mar the scenic views of Nantucket Sound from shore. At its closest point to land, Cape Wind will be five miles offshore. From this point, according to modeled simulations, the turbines will appear a half-inch tall on the horizon. At its farthest point, the wind farm will be 14 miles from shore and the turbines will be nothing but specks in the distance. Not a big deal, you say? Perhaps. But then you are not, presumably, among the rich and powerful elite (including CEO’s and politicians) living on Cape Cod with a view of Nantucket Sound out your front windows. The late Senator Edward Kennedy fought hard against Cape Wind for “political” reasons. Reasons which surely had nothing to do with the fact that the wind turbines would be visible from the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.
As you can see, the issues surrounding Cape Wind are sticky, the waters murky, the tensions high. But despite the pending lawsuits, U.S. Interior Secretary Salazar expects the wind farm to be built, with construction expected to start within a year. “This is the final decision of the United States of America,” Salazar said.
For much more on Cape Wind and the controversy behind it, you can read the 2007 book Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb. It is an engaging read and will give you all the background information and sordid details surrounding Cape Wind and, most importantly, it will give you the facts so that you can make up your own mind about this very important issue. Stop by EPL, pick up the book, and get informed: your great-great-great-grandchildren will be glad you did.