When Cape Wind — both the book and the issue — appeared recently on the Jon Stewart show, it was for some Cape Codders the event of the summer season. Yet all the hoopla came about by serendipity, really.
A friend sent me a message with the name and phone number of a producer at the show. “You should call and get on the show,” he wrote.
Feeling very intimidated, I picked up the phone to call for advice. I erred, however. Thinking I was calling my friend, I instead I called the phone number I was looking at on the computer screen. “Jon Stewart Show,” the producer said, answering the call.
I’m not very polished when it comes to publicity. “Well,” I said, “I guess it’s pretty inappropriate for me to be calling you. I actually dialed your number by accident I’m sorry to bother you. Maybe I should just hang up.”
And the rest is history, so to speak…
By now, several weeks after the famous spot in which Jason Jones, fake television reporter extraordinaire, “interviews” Senator Ted Kennedy by megaphone while sitting in a tiny boat on the Nantucket Sound in front of the Kennedy compound, the piece has been posted on You-Tube and viewed by well over 50,000 people.
It is funny, I have to admit. But it isn’t really fair to lay all the blame for the six years of stalling and lobbying and backroom-dealing at the feet of Massachusetts’ senior senator. At least as guilty is Willard Mitt Romney, a man who was 100-percent committed to keeping the project from being built.
Romney made this promise as part of his campaign to run for governor of the state, and he made it long before he knew anything about the project. “I keep my promises,” he once told an interviewer, and he certainly did in the case of Cape Wind, whether it was good for the state or not.
Romney pulled every string and threatened any public appointee in order to keep the project tied up in regulatory hell for as long as he was governor. At least one person lost her job when she spoke out about what was going on behind closed doors in the Massachusetts Governor’s office.
Not a few people think Romney’s interest in all this delay was tied up with campaign contributions. The family of Bush Pioneer Richard J. Egan—a major financier of Romney’s run for governor—is very much financially behind the $20-million effort to stop the project.
So what is Cape Wind, why is it so important, and when will it be built? It’s an ambitious offshore wind energy project proposed six years ago for Nantucket Sound, summer sailing grounds and drinking resort of the world’s wealthiest people. Long before the details of the project were revealed, these wealthy socialites decided that martini hour would be ruined—positively destroyed—if they had to see wind turbines on the horizon.
To some extent, I can see their point. Much of their money comes from fossil fuels, and Cape Wind represents not that dirty past, but a much more positive future. Initially the project team, led by the world’s most stubborn energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon, wanted to built 130, 2.8-megawatt turbines on a very shallow shoal more than 5 miles off the coastline.
But opponents have been so successful in using their financial and political muscle to tie up the project that now, six years later, the technology has improved so much that Gordon has scaled down the number of turbines to 130 – but scaled up the output. Those 3.8-megawatt (MW) turbines would now make up a project with the nameplate capacity of 468 MW.
The developer says that the project would produce about 80 percent of the Cape and Islands’ yearly consumption of electricity.
Why is Cape Wind important? It has become the flagship project for a promising new technology, offshore wind. It is well-suited to the northeastern region of the United States, where open space is severely limited, but where ocean winds are powerful and dependable.
Moreover, Cape Wind would reduce the use of the oil-fired power plant on the Cape Cod Canal. It should surprise no one that, as explained in great detail in the book, much of the money spent opposing the project can be traced to coal-and-oil roots.
The potential for power produced by offshore wind is obviously threatening to fossil fuel outfits. Down in Delaware, an offshore wind proposal was chosen by government agencies in lieu of a coal plant. Coal interests have challenged that decision as well.
Because Massachusetts’ new governor, Deval Patrick, avidly supports new energy technologies, the project is expected to receive the necessary permits on the state level shortly—although project opponents have begun manipulating a Cape Cod local board, the Cape Cod Commission, in yet another delay attempt.
At the federal level, the project’s permitting remains very uncertain. Currently, Minerals Management Service (MMS), of the federal Department of Interior, is supposed to release a massive draft Environmental Impact Statement any day now.
However, “any day now” has been the watchword on this release for many months. The most recent public announcement from MMS said the document would possibly be released this month, but observers aren’t holding their breath.
The final decision from MMS is currently scheduled to be made next summer; however, this seems unlikely. For a project that has encountered no serious scientific, environmental or (genuine) legal issues, this seems a little long—particularly when the world feels such urgency over oil, coal and climate change.
Wendy Williams has written for many major publications, including Scientific American, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal and The Baltimore Sun. She has been journalist-in-residence at Duke University and at the Hasting Center; a fellow at the Center for environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado and at the Marine Biological Laboratory. The author of several books, including Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, she lives on Cape Cod.