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Cape Wind Controversy Hits New Low, Illustrates Cost of NIMBYism

| Tuesday January 5th, 2010 | 16 Comments

I have immense respect for Robert F Kennedy Jr, and have been frequently moved by his outstanding speeches on big-picture environmental topics. I’m not alone, however, in continuing to be surprised and baffled at the Kennedy tradition of steadfastly opposing the Cape Wind turbine project, the first major offshore wind energy project in the US, slated for Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts. But this post isn’t about the Kennedy family opposition, it’s about another surprising and confusing source of opposition to the project.

According to the New York Times, a Native American group has now raised its voice over the potential project on the grounds that the massive turbine farm “would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds”.

The political ball is play is as follows: The group has managed to get the National Park Service to declare that Nantucket Sound *might* be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Whether or not this actually happens (a huge swath of open ocean is an unusual place for historic designation), the bureaucratic delay this will cause could open the door to legal action and so on. Isn’t politics fun?

All the practical reasons to oppose a project like Cape Wind have been thoroughly debunked, including the idea that wind turbines hurt home values. So that leaves only the spiritual, aesthetic issue at hand.

Fair enough. There are some legitimate opinions to be heard about the aesthetics of wind farms – though most are based only in fear of something new and different. I’m obviously opinionated about this matter, but mostly, I’m concerned about what this says about our potential to work together to evolve our world’s energy production and move towards something resembling sustainability on a global level. What are the costs of such rabid NIMBYism? Especially when it comes from those who otherwise claim to be steadfast supporters of renewable energy and sustainability? Where ought one draw the line between aesthetic tradition and change?

If the Northeast’s highest potential area for wind development can be derailed by the interests of a few wealthy property owners and a small tribe who came out of nowhere this fall, then what will happen elsewhere? Then again, can those of us who stand to gain no real immediate benefit from the Cape Wind project really meddle with what could arguably be considered a strictly local issue?

If the people of Nantucket and Martha’s Vinyard opted to live completely off grid for eternity then they might garner some sympathy. However their opposition to aesthetic sacrifice may mean losing the ground on which they stand – literally.

What do you think?


▼▼▼      16 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • ronbeaty

    As a colonial-rooted Cape Cod native who firmly believes in the sanctity
    of our maritime heritage, I am writing to ardently express my steadfast
    support for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Based upon sensible
    logic, data and reasoning, I am also conversely opposed to the
    controversial Cape Wind Project which seeks to despoil and rob us of the
    pristine nautical legacy bestowed by our forefathers. As a result of the
    likely profound damaging regional financial, ecological and public safety
    consequences Cape Wind would wrought upon us all, it should not be allowed
    to proceed forward to fruition.

    The project poses a cogent danger to essential air and sea navigation.
    Siting the project in Nantucket Sound is a breach of the public trust.
    Contrary to their sham claims, the cost of the electricity which the
    project will produce would not be cheap or competitive. It would be an
    unbearable fiscal burden hoisted upon us without our sanction or consent.
    Furthermore, it will represent a deleterious local economic blow by it's
    absconding of undeserved taxpayer-funded subsidies, forced real estate
    devaluations, and lost revenues from commercial and tourism activities.
    The proposed one hundred thirty wind turbines will perpetually cause
    unsightly visual contamination and distressing noise pollution. Finally,
    Cape Wind will unnecessarily endanger a critical marine and wildlife
    habitat.

    Off-shore deep water wind has surfaced as a cost-effective and
    technologically feasible option in lieu of the Nantucket Sound situated
    Cape Wind Project. Cape Wind has chosen a location which possesses
    countless expenses as well as hazards to public safety, the marine
    environment, and the local economy. Deeper-water sites offer more powerful
    winds and the advantages of clean renewable energy without surrendering
    the irreplaceable natural beauty of Nantucket Sound.

    More distantly sited off-shore locations guarantee the advantages of clean
    wind power without many of the harmful effects of close-shore siting.
    Furthermore, there would be little harmful impact upon air and marine
    navigational safety and local tourist-based economies.

    In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab
    (NREL) estimated a total off-shore wind energy resource of over 1000 GW.
    The potential for deep water locations greater than 30 m (or 100 feet) is
    enormous. Approximately ninety percent of the off-shore wind potential in
    the United States resides in deep water.

    With the aforesaid thoughtful rationales in mind, along with the
    inherently unfair and inequitable nature of the proposed Cape Wind Project
    itself, it must not become a reality which will forever doom our children
    and grandchildren to a ghastly socially inhumane legacy.

    Ron Beaty
    West Barnstable, MA

  • nickaster

    Ron, you've been posting the same comment verbatim around the internet. It makes replying to this somewhat less inspired. But if I must, the argument for deep water generation is strong, but that technology is vastly more expensive, so right now I think it's a bit of a moot point, no?

  • JorgenV

    I would not say that “Then again, can those of us who stand to gain no real immediate benefit from the Cape Wind project really meddle with what could arguably be considered a strictly local issue?”. Since climate change is a global issue and energy independence is a national issue, the deployment of renewable energy generation goes beyond local anywhere. This should fall under eminent domain (I may go too far saying this, but I'll let other contributors correct me) lest we go for another round of energy racism and only put projects in poor neighborhoods.

  • Sal

    Is there any type of landscape or environment worth protecting from the negative impacts of renewable energy development?

    • JorgenV

      That is a very good question. There definitely will be. You don't dam up the grand canyon just to get some more hydro power. Windmills out in the ocean that you hardly see does not qualify. Solar panels in the desert may be location specific, but I would submit that the critters that live there might care less than some humans. Powerlines have similar considerations. In most cases it will be plain common sense for most of us what is appropriate and what is not, and if as a country we are not willing or able to reduce our energy consumption we'll have to accept the consequences.

      • Sal

        Jorgen,
        I agree there are and will be more instances where wind developers and utility companies want to place these structures in areas that are environmentally sensitive and in areas that are extraordinarily scenic. The companies who want to install these structures often do not care about the environment or the scenic value of the areas they are impacting. They will put them anywhere. They would bulldoze Redwood National Forest and place turbines there if they thought they could make a buck. They do not have environmental or preservation concerns. Their bottom line is money in their pocketbooks. So I think the door needs to be respectfully left open for so-called NIMBY arguments, because otherwise we are throwing America's beauty and natural treasures to the wind, so to speak.

        Is this particular seascape an area worth protecting? That is the question we face. I've never seen the area, but it seems that it is beautiful and special enough that communities have developed there to enjoy the views it has to offer. It is extraordinary enough to rally a great number of people willing to fight extremely hard to preserve it. That alone is a red flag that a project is encroaching on an area worth protecting. So I think we should respectfully listen to their views. This particular project doesn't sound like a very big one. Given there are millions of acres out there for these projects, can it be built somewhere else where it will have less of a negative impact?

  • Barbara Durkin

    To dismiss legitimate conflicts presented by Cape Wind is to display a lack of knowledge of this project as proposed for Nantucket Sound.

    NIMBYism is tired obfuscation for which I have an antidote> free research and fresh material on…

    wind energy cost

    http://bjdurk.polls.newsvine.com/_news/2009/02/

    Scam

    http://bjdurk.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/25/296

    immitigable avian impacts

    http://bjdurk.newsvine.com/_news/2009/03/11/253

    Cape Wind is a public safety hazard as proposed for Nantucket Sound.

    http://bjdurk.newsvine.com/_news/2009/09/19/329

    NIMBYism is interestingly subjective.

    8/21/09 World's largest wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas, facing stiff NIMBY opposition, has closed their factory on the Isle of Wight. 600 jobs have been or will soon be lost.
    “Many more jobs that depend on Vestas will follow.”

    http://savevestas.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/bbc-

    In summary:

    Cape Wind is an FAA Presumed Hazard that threatens navigators, air travelers, migratory and endangered birds, marine mammals, an Essential Fish Habitat and squid spawning ground, fishing ground as well as Sacred Land and NHLs, and tax and ratepayers.

    Jim Gordon has a “no-bid” deal for Nantucket Sound as the worst possible location for an industrial scale wind facility. Cape Wind has no incentive to legitimately pursue a less conflicted location and face the competitive bidding process.

    Cape Wind is a tale of spin and politics versus public interest and merit. Public interest is served by reliable and affordable energy, not self serving politicians granting unmerited favors to the annointed writing policy that separates us from our money and resource wealth. Wind energy offers a poor return on our investment of public capital and resources.

    So, I hope the Tribes success will spare the rest from ignorance and greed.

    http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/vi

  • caseyverdant

    Another setback for Cape Wind project, which would utilize only 24 square miles of Nantucket to provide more than 420MW of clean, green power. The NPS ruling will slow a potentially revolutionary project for alternative energy production.

    If you’re interested in wind energy, check out http://www.greencollareconomy.com. It has hundreds of case studies on emerging green technology and wind farms. It's also the largest b2b green directory on the web.

  • Rick

    Nick – thanks for your thoughtful comments. As a colonial-rooted Cape Cod native who firmly believes in the sanctity of our maritime heritage I support the Cape Wind project for many of the reasons that have been debated for the past decade.

  • spoiltheviewandlive

    What amazes me is that so many people claim that wind farms will spoil the natural heritage when the effects of climate change will do even worse damage. 'Natural heritage' = the view i.e. wind turbines spoil the view. Climate change is killing people, but not in the US. Is the life of someone worth more than the view?

  • Heather Hughes

    I grew up on Martha's Vineyard, and if all the people who have commented who aren't from the area took a look at the electric bills of my parents for the last 10 years, you would wonder how anyone is able to live there at all and NOT be rich (which my parents most defintiely are NOT rich). The main people who don't want this project to succeed are the rich people who don't want their view spoiled. I think it's insane that the technology for wind energy is readily available and can save Cape & Island tresidents money and the environment and it's being touted as a bad idea by the people who don't spend the majority of their life there in the first place.

    In the immortal words of David Madeiros of Oak Bluffs, MA: “If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?” Maybe then the year-round residents would have a chance to have clean, cheap energy for a change!

  • Heather Hughes

    Although this is an issue that will be in debate for YEARS. I mean, it took MV nearly a decade to agree on a $12M TEMPORARY 500-foot bridge so that they could knock down the old one and rebuild. I bet my children will be parents before any real sensible progress is made on this!

  • Heather Hughes

    I grew up on Martha's Vineyard, and if all the people who have commented who aren't from the area took a look at the electric bills of my parents for the last 10 years, you would wonder how anyone is able to live there at all and NOT be rich (which my parents most defintiely are NOT rich). The main people who don't want this project to succeed are the rich people who don't want their view spoiled. I think it's insane that the technology for wind energy is readily available and can save Cape & Island tresidents money and the environment and it's being touted as a bad idea by the people who don't spend the majority of their life there in the first place.

    In the immortal words of David Madeiros of Oak Bluffs, MA: “If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?” Maybe then the year-round residents would have a chance to have clean, cheap energy for a change!

  • Heather Hughes

    Although this is an issue that will be in debate for YEARS. I mean, it took MV nearly a decade to agree on a $12M TEMPORARY 500-foot bridge so that they could knock down the old one and rebuild. I bet my children will be parents before any real sensible progress is made on this!

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  • Brad Bergstrom

    To dismiss NIMBYism so blithely is to be ignorant of the history of the environmental movement. Here are some famous NIMBY-ites and their local causes: John Muir (Yosemite), Enos Mills (Rocky Mtn. NP), Lois Gibbs (Love Canal), Karen Silkwood (Kerr-McGee plutonium contamination)… you get the picture.

    Here's a big picture response to the BigWind bandwagon: Industrialization of the landscape over vast areas (and it will truly have to be vast to replace coal and nukes) for energy production is NOT the answer to our environmental crisis; it will cause as many problems as it solves. People forget other environmental crises such as the extinction crisis, which was well underway due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation before global climate change materialized. We need to embrace Ghandi's “small is beautiful” idea: get off the grid. Better a billion mini-turbines and solar panels on rooftops (and whatever else technology comes up with–BloomBoxes, maybe?), which have already displaced their footprints of nature than sacrificing every remaining square mile of open space to further entrench the grid.

  • Brad Bergstrom

    To dismiss NIMBYism so blithely is to be ignorant of the history of the environmental movement. Here are some famous NIMBY-ites and their local causes: John Muir (Yosemite), Enos Mills (Rocky Mtn. NP), Lois Gibbs (Love Canal), Karen Silkwood (Kerr-McGee plutonium contamination)… you get the picture.

    Here's a big picture response to the BigWind bandwagon: Industrialization of the landscape over vast areas (and it will truly have to be vast to replace coal and nukes) for energy production is NOT the answer to our environmental crisis; it will cause as many problems as it solves. People forget other environmental crises such as the extinction crisis, which was well underway due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation before global climate change materialized. We need to embrace Ghandi's “small is beautiful” idea: get off the grid. Better a billion mini-turbines and solar panels on rooftops (and whatever else technology comes up with–BloomBoxes, maybe?), which have already displaced their footprints of nature than sacrificing every remaining square mile of open space to further entrench the grid.