September 15th, 2003, 03:30 PM
A tempest off Nantucket
From The Economist print edition
A row about wind power divides one of the prettiest bits of America
DRIVING across the bridge to Cape Cod can feel like taking a step back in time, entering a land of grey shingled homes and craggy fishermen, where the pace of life is blissfully slow. So it's odd to think this curlicue of land could host a battle over the future of American energy.
Yet that's the sort of language people use these days when they talk about Cape Wind, a company that hopes to build the nation's first offshore wind farm a few miles off Cape Cod's coast. If approved by the Army Corps of Engineers—after a lengthy permitting process that few doubt will involve a lawsuit—its 130 turbines would provide three-quarters of the Cape's electricity, pollution-free. They would also be visible from beaches along Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, where some of the nation's wealthiest liberals own valuable property.
Cape Wind proponents have done quite well at casting people like the Kennedy family as not-in-my-backyarders who would otherwise embrace wind power. Yet the company has also been helped by the fact that the Cape's population is poorer than it at first appears. Alongside the holidaying bankers and television people, it has a growing and less wealthy population of “year-rounders”—and many of these permanent residents would quite like to reduce the reliance on tourism. Some seem to like the idea of the Cape as a national energy pioneer.
Local greens are split. At the moment Cape Cod gets its power from an oil-fired plant, a coal-fired plant and a nuclear reactor. But is it worth cluttering Cape Cod's open horizon? Some even object to the idea of a company being able to take over a 24-square-mile chunk of Nantucket Sound, or any other body of water. Unless people want a string of wind farms along the east coast, America needs to devise a system for regulating them, says Isaac Rosen from the main opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “The ocean,” he says, “should not be less deserving of protection than the land.”
That's the way this battle has gone for months, with each side claiming to be the more credible environmentalist, as well as the more honest broker. The Alliance says Cape Wind can't be trusted because it stands to win tax credits and make a profit. Cape Wind says the Alliance can't be trusted because its boss once ran a copper company that did its share of polluting.
The newscaster who has been called “the most trusted man in America”, Walter Cronkite, who lives in Martha's Vineyard, originally appeared in ads for the Alliance. But last month, after meeting with Cape Wind's president, Jim Gordon, Mr Cronkite asked for the ads to be pulled, and says he is reserving judgment.
Now, he and others are waiting for results from a set of environmental studies, which may be released by late autumn. If they give the project a clean bill of health, some green groups will push for it. Cape Cod is especially threatened by the rising sea levels that accompany global warming, says Seth Kaplan, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. Any step to reduce greenhouse emissions could help, he says. “If we don't do something about this, it's just going to be gone.”
It may also come down to a fight over aesthetics. Cape Wind's opponents call the turbines a blight on the landscape, and even some proponents consider the view a sacrifice not an asset. Mr Gordon, though, makes two separate counter-arguments. The first is that the turbines will hardly be visible, painted a blue-grey that will blend into the sky, barely jutting over the horizon when viewed from a distant shore. The other is that, in fact, they will be pretty. “Many, many people believe that wind farms are interesting and inspiring and beautiful,” he claims.
September 15th, 2003, 06:13 PM
NIMBYs, all of them. Greenpeace activists have rightly accused them of being as such. They're worried about views and the limited maneuverability of their luxury yachts.
September 15th, 2003, 06:30 PM
Wind farms can be very intrusive. I was in Palm Springs earlier this year, where they sprawl for acres upon acres. They are interesting to behold, but having to live with them is another story. This is not such a clear-cut rich NIMBY issue. I'd be upset if they put them in my backyard.
September 15th, 2003, 07:11 PM
Yeah, but aren't these things going to be several miles offshore?