Favorable Breezes for Cape Wind

Offshore Wind TurbineSomeday, the Cape Wind story will become a major Hollywood blockbuster.

Or at least a two-part television miniseries starring Ed Begley Jr. On the Discovery Channel.

The effort to build an offshore wind farm – it would be the US’s first – has thus far been a roller coaster ride for advocates and opponents alike.

If that movie is ever made, this Jan. 18 will occupy a turning point in the story’s script, the day the jury levees its verdict before a rapt courtroom. Here and now, the date stands as a milestone in the life of the Cape Wind drama, marking the release of the farm’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The report is an exhaustive seal of approval of sorts, the final official analysis of how the wind project would likely affect its environment.

The federal Minerals Management Service assembled the report, an 800-page tome touching on every aspect of the wind farm – from expected effects on local economies and energy supply to its influence on bat and bird populations.

Adverse effects according to the report, would be mostly negligible or minor with a few moderate effects expected.

Gifted with an usually lengthy coastline, the United States has the potential to become a leader in ocean-based wind power generation. Yet it’s as if the country – and investors – have held their breath watching and waiting for the Cape Wind controversy to unfold.

It seems to have fallen to the planned wind farm to test the waters for such large-scale and ambitious renewable energy projects in the US, and Cape Wind has seldom found those seas calm.

Cape Cod reaches out eastward from Massachusetts like a weathered old sailor’s arm, bending and flexing upward until it finally ends in a little balled fist called Provincetown. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are islands tucked just beneath that arm, due southwest and southeast respectively.

Nestled in the center of this protective triangle is the spot Cape Wind has planned for its 130 wind towers.

The turbines would be rated at 3.6 megawatts each, with a combined total power output of about 468 megawatts. Under average conditions, the farm could provide the Cape and its islands with about 75 percent of their electrical needs. That output is equivalent to about 200,000 homes.

But shorelines surrounding the farm site also happen to be among the most expensive ocean-front property in the northeast. Since Cape Wind was first proposed nearly eight years ago, groups have emerged to both oppose and lobby for its construction.

Opponents have had their say most vocally in the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an organization formed to put the brakes on the wind farm.

Clean Power Now was founded by those on the other side of the opinion spectrum, and has worked to help make Cape Wind a reality. Both groups are funded through donations.

The Environmental Impact Statement’s release and its findings were cause for celebration or consternation, depending on which side one’s sympathies lie. A 30-day waiting period now must expire before the Minerals Management Service issues its final record of decision. This will state whether it has chosen to issue Cape Wind its lease for the proposed farm site.

The  timing of the final EIS is near picture perfect, as though written for the drama of the big screen. The incoming Obama administration seems the perfect stage for the EIS’s release, in that the president-elect has said clean energy would be a major player in his economic recovery plan.

If this was indeed a work of fiction, the discerning critic would cry foul, trite, predictable. But in this case, life imitates art.

If ever there was fertile ground for this wind farm to take root, for a renewable energy renaissance, it seems this is it. Our tanking economy desperately needs a fresh, new – and renewable – breath of innovation, and a climate in crisis needs immediate relief from fossil-fueled consumption and growth.

Whether Cape Wind and the renewable-energy industry can overcome their obstacles is a decision that ultimately lies with us.

That ending has yet to be written.

Image Credit: phault at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

One comment
  1. Barbara Durkin

    We are on the eve of the realization of the devastating effects of a government poised to squander Public Trust, along with heritage use rights to the land and waterway. And, we are for the fist time in our nations’ histories, contemplating the precedent divestment to industry and business of our precious resources.

    The purpose of for profit industry is to exploit rules and no rules, land and water; in a manner that too often fails to provide measurable benefits to citizens and the environment.

    Cape Wind is neither economically nor technically viable as proposed offshore. This project poses a threat to the safety of humans as well as to endangered species that include mammals and birds, and to heritage fishing trades.

    Weight of opinion should be given by MMS to the Port Captain of the Steamship Authority SSA responsible for the safe transport of over 3 million ferry passengers, annually; Hy-Line Cruises; Barnstable, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Airport officials’; Cape TRACON air traffic controllers’; Mass Fishermen’s Partnership; and those most familiar with the Nantucket Sound terrain, weather conditions, and present limitations on safe navigation. These stakeholders, experts of navigation of this airspace and waterway, have identified Cape Wind as “lethal” (Barnstable Airport officials), and SSA: “It is our opinion that the 130 wind turbines planned for Horseshoe Shoals and Nantucket Sound has a potential for creating a significant hazard to safe navigation for our vessels and other users of the waterways.”

    MMS Cape Wind Draft Environmental Impact Statement Appendix F:

    Does NOT include figures for costly operation and maintenance O& M contract, Does not include project bonding, required upgrades to infrastructure and transmission lines, OR public subsidies that amount to 77% of project construction cost.

    The American Wind Industry estimates the cost for needed upgrades to the grid to accommodate wind in New England is $60 billion dollars.

    Cape Wind MMS DEIS Appendix F:

    “Given the estimated cost of energy is $122/MWh, twice that of the current market and that this is after the full benefit of tax and RPS incentives, the prospects of entering a long-term purchase power contract would seem low.”

    Boston Globe,
    September 21, 2008

    ‘The answers, to him, are blowing in the wind; Vestas chief sees untapped energy source in US’

    “Vestas Wind Power is the largest global supplier of wind turbines, with 35,500 installed worldwide and more than 15,000 employees.”

    Vestas CEO and President further states:

    “We’ve got more than 100 wind projects in the works currently, many of them only one or two small turbines. The largest is Cape Wind, a 130-turbine offshore project. I think if you look at wind resources on-shore in the US, they are fantastic. And, therefore, I am really wondering why anybody wants to put them up offshore because it’s twice the price. So just as an outsider, I am just scratching my head saying, “Why?”

    Wind energy project failure rates are astronomical.


    The overstated benefits and understated risks of wind energy have allowed it to draw fans who think this is about clean, green and renewable energy.

    It’s about a shift of monetary and resource wealth from the public to business and industry-tax sheltering.

    “Green is green” as the VP and chief counsel of GE likes to say.

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