On this NIMBY issue, many locals–left-wingers and right-wingers alike–are equally opposed. So how can we find common ground about this high-profile renewable-energy project?
I don’t often begin sentences with the words, “Like the Kennedys, my siblings and I . . . “
But here goes: Like the Kennedys, my siblings and I treasure our moments on the south shore of Cape Cod, feeling the southwest breeze against our faces and looking out across the warm waters of Nantucket Sound.
Since the 1920s, the Kennedy family has gathered at their Hyannis Port compound, playing touch football and plying the Sound in beautiful wooden Wianno Senior sloops.
15 miles east (one town in from the elbow of the arm of Cape Cod), my five siblings and I chip in for the property taxes and upkeep on a house in Harwich Port that our English-teacher grandfather bought during the Depression. It’s not on the beach, but it’s close enough. We love it, and our wives and children do, too.
So I understand where the liberal Kennedys and other not-so-liberal Cape residents are coming from when they oppose Cape Wind, which would place 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, about 6.5 miles out from their lovely vacation homes.
From right and left alike: not in my front yard
U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III (D.-Mass.), a grandson of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D.-N.Y.), came out in favor of CapeWind when he was campaigning for his congressional seat last summer. But he is an exception in his family.
His uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime environmental activist and renewable energy advocate, opposes CapeWind, as did RFK Jr.’s uncle, the late liberal lion Edward M. Kennedy.
From the right and left wing alike, many Cape residents agree: “Not in my backyard,” or more precisely, “Not in my front yard.”
Above all else, they don’t want to look out on the horizon and see that pincushion of white whirligigs.
From 6.5 miles away, the 258-foot tall turbines would appear to be about a half-inch tall, as in the artist’s rendition at right.
The numbers of the Cape Wind project
The Cape Wind farm will provide an average of 174 megawatts, enough to satisfy about 75 percent of the demand for the Cape and Islands while emitting no greenhouse gases, consuming no water and discharging no waste.
“Average” is an important word to remember about wind power. When the wind is blowing, the farm will produce more than 420 megawatts. When the wind is not blowing, the grid still needs traditional power sources.
Cape Wind has undergone a comprehensive environmental permitting process by 17 federal and state agencies, under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.
The project will create up to a thousand jobs in assembly and construction, and 150 permanent jobs thereafter, not including the Hy-Line boats that will take tourists out to see the turbines up close.
On the other hand, the power will not be cheap. Utilities National Grid and NStar will pay almost twice the going rate for electricity – 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour – and the price will go up three percent a year over the 15 years of their contracts.
In looking for common ground, we can point out that a big upfront investment is not unusual for renewable resource projects. Dams, for example, cost a lot to build. But once they are built, hydropower is among the cheapest and cleanest of all power sources.
Likewise, nuclear plants are expensive to build but relatively cheap to operate and, from an emissions standpoint, clean.
Coal-burning plants, on the other hand, are less expensive to build, but the fuel is an ongoing expense.
If we can agree that, in the long run, it’s to our advantage to have more renewable resources, CapeWind will be a valuable addition to our infrastructure.
Gordon argues that, over the long term, it will reduce the wholesale clearing price of electricity in New England, cut the bills for the region’s power customers and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
Most people agree that wind farms are good things in Texas and Oklahoma. But this is our nation’s first offshore wind farm.
A recent poll shows that 57 percent of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard residents support the project.
But how do we discuss this with our friends, neighbors and family members who fear that the wind farm on the horizon will be an eyesore, especially when we sail toward it on sunny summer afternoons?
What a typical resident thinks
To assess where reasonably minded residents are, let’s start with my older brother, Rocky Clark, 64, a landscape designer.
He has run his business, Gardens By the Sea, in Harwich, Mass., for more than 35 years. A father of four, he’s college educated, politically liberal and conservation minded.
“This has been going on for way too long,” says Clark. Indeed, it has – for 12 years.
“I don’t think the Cape Wind people were very politic,” he says. “They just never took the time to sell the idea to the towns and the people around here.”
In fact, Cape Wind has hosted some 400 public presentations and events over the past five years, but perception is reality.
“They just weren’t smart about it,” says Clark. “Instead of saying they were going to put up 130 of them, they should have put up one, so people could see what they looked like.”
As mentioned earlier, the wind farm will be just visible on the horizon.
When the Danes put a large wind farm in the Baltic Sea back in 1995, there were all the same concerns that we hear on the Cape today. But today no one in Denmark talks about it. Prices for beachfront property continue to rise at the same rate as ever.
“The Town of Falmouth had a lot of bad publicity about wind turbines,” says Clark. “They said they cause people to get migraines and they talked about taking them down.”
Indeed, when Falmouth erected two 400-foot-tall wind turbines at its wastewater treatment facility in 2010, some residents claimed it caused them migraines, depression and insomnia.
The Massachusetts departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health convened a panel of medical and technical experts, who concluded that “there is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.’”
My brother notes, “We do have two wind turbines in an industrial area of Dennis. I drive under them all the time, and they seem fine.”
Still, some citizens are afraid. Some are also afraid about smart meters in homes. In both cases, health panels and fact sheets can only go so far to address emotional arguments. Once held, beliefs are hard to change.
Returning to the subject of CapeWind, Clark adds, “They asked for too much and they didn’t want to give anything. They wanted to use the wind, but they didn’t offer a cut our power bills or provide anything for the towns.
“When you have a coal plant come into a town, they give some money to local schools or hospitals. Why should the towns get behind it when they’re not getting anything?”
And then he returns to the main point: “People are concerned that they’ll be ugly. You come to Cape Cod because it’s one of the most beautiful places, and you don’t want to look out at these ugly things.”
Making the Case
Cape Wind, like so many touchy issues, is tied up in politics and divergent opinions about climate change.
To discuss this matter and build some form of consensus with those from all parts of the spectrum, we can start by stating what we all want:
- We all want to be good stewards of the environment
- We all want energy independence
- We all want to pay less for our energy
There’s no one answer for accomplishing the goals stated above. The answers include:
- Nuclear power, which does not produce carbon dioxide
- Cleaning up emissions from existing coal-burning plants, which still provide about half the power in the U.S.
- Natural gas, which lately has become more plentiful and less expensive
- Renewable energy sources – hydro, solar, wind, methane from landfills, geothermal and biomass
Hydroelectricity has always been an important part of our power mix. The U.S. gets about 8 percent of its power from hydro, which is still the cheapest of all energy sources.
The other renewables still provide only a small slice of the power pie.
We now get about 2.6 percent of our power from wind, but that number is growing.
We all use electricity. Wind is a resource that we can use without impact to the environment, and it can help us be energy independent. We will still need nuclear and fossil power, but we’ll need a little less.
With expiration dates for licenses looming, Cape Wind will either become a reality this year or not. Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick wants it to happen. It will create jobs in construction and after.
When the Pilgrims came to Cape Cod in 1620, they erected countless windmills, some of which still stand.
In general, Cape Codders like to keep things the way they are, especially when it comes to preserving the natural beauty of the ponds, dunes and seascapes.
Because President Kennedy felt that way, he created the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Cape Wind won’t detract from that beauty. Rather, it will help us preserve it, by creating a renewable, clean power source that we can all use into the future.