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Easy and breezy, but not so beautiful

Why some residents of Cape Cod refuse to plug in to offshore wind-energy project

CENTERVILLE, MASS. -- On the rare day when conditions are just right and a soft breeze lifts the mist off the sound, Barbara Birdsey can stand in her sun room and see past Horseshoe Shoals, where her parents' ashes are scattered, clear to Nantucket Island.

Ms. Birdsey, 62, has lived since she was three years old in this classic Cape Cod beachfront home, with its dormers, cedar-shingled facade and blue-shuttered windows, with cut-outs of windmills in each shutter.

Her family has long roots on Cape Cod -- "back to the Indians," she says. Her parents fished the rich, shallow waters of the Horseshoe Shoals and sailed with the Kennedys, whose Hyannisport compound is just a few kilometres up the coast.

Not surprisingly, the soft-spoken grandmother reacts viscerally to a developer's controversial plan to construct a $1-billion (U.S.) offshore wind-energy farm, with 130, 10-storey-tall wind turbines, and a five-storey transformer station, all in the middle of Nantucket Sound and starting a mere nine kilometres from her home on Craigville Beach.

As with energy projects everywhere, the Cape Wind proposal has spawned fierce, not-in-my-backyard opposition. In this case, the NIMBY forces... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
CENTERVILLE, MASS. -- On the rare day when conditions are just right and a soft breeze lifts the mist off the sound, Barbara Birdsey can stand in her sun room and see past Horseshoe Shoals, where her parents' ashes are scattered, clear to Nantucket Island.

Ms. Birdsey, 62, has lived since she was three years old in this classic Cape Cod beachfront home, with its dormers, cedar-shingled facade and blue-shuttered windows, with cut-outs of windmills in each shutter.

Her family has long roots on Cape Cod -- "back to the Indians," she says. Her parents fished the rich, shallow waters of the Horseshoe Shoals and sailed with the Kennedys, whose Hyannisport compound is just a few kilometres up the coast.

Not surprisingly, the soft-spoken grandmother reacts viscerally to a developer's controversial plan to construct a $1-billion (U.S.) offshore wind-energy farm, with 130, 10-storey-tall wind turbines, and a five-storey transformer station, all in the middle of Nantucket Sound and starting a mere nine kilometres from her home on Craigville Beach.

As with energy projects everywhere, the Cape Wind proposal has spawned fierce, not-in-my-backyard opposition. In this case, the NIMBY forces are led by some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the United States, who have summer homes on the cape and islands, including the Kennedy clan.

With the help of some strange political bedfellows, Edward Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, has managed to force the issue onto the floor of Congress through an amendment to a Coast Guard appropriations bill that would scuttle the Cape Wind project.

Environmentalists are furious, saying that, for the sake of a nice view, Senator Kennedy is opposing a clean, domestic source of power that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In contrast, President George W. Bush's administration has come out in support of Cape Wind, saying it is the kind of project needed to wean the country off foreign oil.

The battle is just one of several raging around the country as the administration looks to open coastal waters for wind-power projects, conventional oil drilling and liquid natural gas terminals. Local residents typically oppose such developments, saying they would result in the industrialization of scenic and fragile wildlife areas.

On this dull May afternoon, the picture outside Ms. Birdsey's sun room is one of tranquillity -- a slate-grey ocean horizon bracketed by points of land, a lone fishing boat in silhouette, an empty beach fronted by small hillocks of grassy dunes, a sombre sky.

"I think it would be totally disastrous, totally disastrous," Ms. Birdsey said as she gazed over the water. "When I first heard that someone wanted to put an industrial energy plant in Horseshoe Shoals, I thought it was a joke. . . . It would encompass most of the horizon visually but it also has huge significance for marine life -- avian, fish and everything."

The Cape Wind project is the brainchild of renewable-energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon. His Energy Management Inc. is proposing a facility that would generate 450 megawatts of power at peak and supply up to 75 per cent of the electricity requirements of Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

It would be the largest offshore wind-energy project in the world and the first in the United States, although there are plans for another off Long Island's Jones Beach. It is drawing similar resistance.

Mr. Gordon, who built New England's first natural gas-fired power plants, launched the wind project four years ago. Since then, it has been subject to fierce local opposition but strong support statewide.

According to polls, the project has broad support in Massachusetts. One recent survey said 70 per cent supported offshore wind power and only 19 per cent opposed it, while even some opponents acknowledge that close to half of the residents of Cape Cod and the islands are supportive.

Critics complain Cape Wind windmills will kill birds on migratory flight paths; proponents note the Audubon Society has concluded it would have a minimal ecological impact. Opponents say it would threaten the fisheries, but a major study by a University of Delaware marine biologist concluded it would have negligible impact and may even enhance spawning. Critics say it would present a safety hazard, while federal aviation and maritime authorities have approved it.

Dick Elrick, 51, is a former town councillor in the seaside town of Barnstable, a ferry boat captain, and president of CleanPowerNow, a citizens group that supports Cape Wind. He said it is crucial that the United States develop alternative energy sources and is angry at liberal Cape Codders who oppose this project, particularly the Kennedys.

Horseshoe Shoals is in federal waters, although it is surrounded by state-controlled, offshore zones where development is prohibited. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led the permitting process and, in October, 2004, released a 3,800-page draft environmental-impact statement that supported the project.

The Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration have concluded it would pose no navigational hazard to small airplanes or ships. The Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board approved its plan to bring transmission lines ashore.

In a telephone interview from Boston, Mr. Gordon said the Horseshoe Shoals location is critical because it is shallow water, protected from the worst of North Atlantic storms, with easy access to an onshore electricity grid.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a renowned environmentalist, has also actively opposed the renewable-energy project, which would displace electricity produced from coal- and oil-fired plants that contribute to global warming and local air pollution.

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Mr. Kennedy defended his stand, while declaring his support for offshore wind energy: "I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound."

Senator Kennedy's allies have introduced an amendment to a Coast Guard appropriations bill now before Congress that would give a veto over the project to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has voiced strong opposition. A vote on the measure, which is opposed by the White House, has been delayed several times but is expected before summer.

In the Senate last week, Senator Kennedy voiced his opposition to Cape Wind. "I strongly support the development of offshore wind-energy projects," he proclaimed. But he went on to denounce the one planned for his backyard, saying the state has spent nearly 400 years protecting Nantucket Sound and should have a veto over any energy project proposed there.

The senator is supported by the Alliance for the Preservation of Nantucket Sound, a local opposition group that is populated by prominent Cape Cod business people and summer residents.

They include Ms. Birdsey; Wayne Kurker, owner of Hyannis Marina; William Koch, whose private company, Oxbow Group, has energy interests in coal, oil and renewables, and who led the successful U.S. entry in the 1992 America's Cup yacht-racing championship; and Doug Yearly, former chairman of the mining company Phelps Dodge Corp. and scion of the Wianno Yacht Club in the exclusive Cape Cod town of Osterville.

Mr. Kurker has been in business on Cape Cod for 30 years. His vast marina, which he expanded three years ago over local opposition, dominates the Hyannis harbour.

In an interview, he said the Cape Wind project will not only threaten wildlife, but also the fishing industry and tourist trade that depends on the natural beauty of Nantucket Sound.

"I don't like seeing a lot of local folks get hurt so one big developer can make fortune," he said. "It just isn't right to see one guy make a fortune on the backs of a lot of working people."

The wealthy opponents -- the Alliance received 90 per cent of its $3-million budget last year from 10 per cent of its members -- have made common cause with the local fishing community, which fears the development will disrupt stocks in the sound.

Ed Barrett, 50, fishes up and down the coast out of Hyannis harbour and is president of the Massachusetts Fishermen's Association, which opposes the Cape Wind project. He is worried that construction of 130 windmills and a massive turbine station will destroy the spawning grounds of Horseshoe Shoals.

"The sound is the economic engine of the Cape and I just don't see why you would want to jeopardize that," he said. "Is the risk really worth it?"



 


Source: http://www.theglobeandmail....

MAY 20 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/2698-easy-and-breezy-but-not-so-beautiful
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