In 2001, Jim Gordon, a well-heeled developer of natural gas plants in New England, took up a long-discussed but never-pursued idea that advocates said would usher in a new era of clean energy in America: an ocean-based wind farm off the shores of Cape Cod.
This is not the same, Reid suggests, as the tack deployed by opponents of Cape Wind. "That is, to sue in connection with basically every single regulatory approval, whether it's related to the contracts or the environmental reviews or the permitting — every single turn has been challenged," Reid said. "I think that's a whole different animal, and again, I wouldn't want to necessarily use the exception to the rule to frame how you should change the rules."
Kit Kennedy, an NRDC attorney who specializes in renewable energy policy, and who has written about the long-running Cape Wind tussle, agrees.
"The thorough and careful environmental review helped to outline the environmental benefits of the project, identify where mitigation measures were called for and allowed for full participation and input by the public," Kennedy said. "It gave us confidence that once the environmental review was done, we had all the information on the project's benefits and impacts that we needed to support the project.
"The delays in moving forward with Cape Wind," she added, "stem not from NEPA but largely from the well-funded opposition of a single group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, whose sole purpose — despite its name — is to try to stop Cape Wind."
Protecting the Sound
Audra Parker is the chief executive of that alliance — also known as Save Our Sound — an umbrella organization based in Hyannis, Mass., that has spearheaded the fight against Cape Wind for most of the last dozen years. In a small, second-floor office next door to Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub and Restaurant, Parker pores over a map and explains how the virtues that make Horseshoe Shoal an attractive location to erect wind turbines are, at the same time, characteristics that are highly prized — left just as they are — by other commercial and recreational interests.
"The developer basically went and said, 'Okay, from a technical basis, where's a really good spot to build?'" Parker said. "'Well, this is a good spot because it's close to shore, so my transmission cables won't be so long, right? It's protected, so it's easier to maintain and operate — my extreme storm wave heights are low, because it's almost like a harbor — and the wind speed's really high. So technically, it's a great place for me — a profit-maximizing location.'
Audra Parker, who heads up the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, explains how Cape Wind would drive up electricity rates in Massachusetts.
"On the other hand, those very same things make it really conflicted, because you've got a very lucrative fishing industry right here," she continued. "You've got a lot of traffic because it's a seasonal community. You've got a lot of recreational boating going on here, you've got ferry lines going here, you've got air traffic — you just have a huge amount of conflict. And at the same time, it's a very fragile habitat. You've got endangered species like right whales coming in here, you've got endangered birds like piping plovers and roseate terns. So it's sort of the same thing that made it very attractive to the developer makes it very conflicted for the public, which is why there has been such a fight."
More recently, Parker and other opponents have raised objections to the power-purchase deals brokered by Cape Wind's developers with regional electricity transmission companies. These include contracts with National Grid and NStar to buy three-quarters of Cape Wind's output (50 percent to the former and 27.5 percent to the latter) over the first 15 years of the farm's operation. The cost of that power — significantly higher than the spot-price for electricity generated by more polluting sources — will pose a significant hit to ratepayers that simply isn't worth it, Parker says.
And while supporters of the project chastise opponents for standing in the way of renewable power development for purely selfish ends, Parker argues that the open vistas of Nantucket Sound are as worthy of preservation as other national landmarks. If we would blanch at placing a large-scale industrial facility in the heart of the Grand Canyon, such reasoning goes, why would we entertain doing it smack in the middle of an arguably historic body of water bounded by tranquil seaside towns?
"In the West they have these huge areas of land. They've got these huge national parks like Yellowstone, and there just aren't areas like that here. This is what we have here," Parker said. "Why would you destroy that, you know?"
This and other arguments — from destruction of property values, ruination of a lucrative tourist trade and desecration of sacred Native American vistas — have gained opponents purchase in the courts at various turns.
And while much of the resistance has emanated from middle- and working-class folks at the rim of the sound, there is little question that the effort to derail Cape Wind has also been helped — and prolonged — by deep-pocketed critics in the tonier compounds of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, though in some cases, that opposition has foundered. The late Walter Cronkite, the esteemed news anchor and property owner on Martha's Vineyard, for example, was an early opponent of the project, appearing in local television ads funded by critics of Cape Wind beforereconsidering his stance and ultimately supporting it before his death.
Recently appointed Secretary of State and former Democratic senator from Massachusetts John Kerry — a chief architect of climate legislation on Capitol Hill and a staunch supporter of clean energy — questioned the project for years, arguing in 2007, for example, that "You can't just have someone plunk something down wherever the hell they want."
Kerry eventually lent his support to the project as well, but his early reticence echoed the opposition of the Kennedy family, whose compound in Hyannisport, just down the road from Craigville Beach, looks directly out onto Horseshoe Shoal.
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