Tilting at windmills

Us wind power project is held up by advocates of scenic beauty

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2006

Tilting at windmills

-- serious controversies dog Cape Wind, the first offshore wind energy project proposed in the us. The project involves a wind park with 130 wind turbines, which at its peak could 420 megawatts, annually -- enough to replace the power generated by a coal power plant. As per the project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, fossil fuel plants would emit billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, 4,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide, and 1,000 tonnes of nitrous oxides to generate that amount of electricity. Such a 'green' power plant might have been expected to have an easy run in the environment-friendly state of Massachusetts, but its proposed site has become the reason for a bitter public quarrel.

The project site is close to Nuntucket Sound, a major tourist attraction, and strong lobby has emerged to stop Cape Wind from spoiling Nantucket Sound's "wilderness and view". Called the Alliance to Save Nantucket, the group derides wind turbines as mechanical behemoths that will create "awful ruckus" and frighten away the birds. The alliance has influential members including Massachusetts' governor Mitt Romney, its lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, the historian David McCullough, senator Ted Kennedy, and his nephew, Robert F Kennedy Jr. The Kennedys, who reside near the project area, have been supporters of many environmental causes, but they have emerged as vociferous opponents of Cape Wind. In a December 2005 New York Times article Robert Kennedy Jr, noted, "Its right to promote wind power. But some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. Cape Wind's proposal involves construction of 130 giant turbines whose windmill arms will reach 417 feet above the water and be visible for up to 26 miles. Hundreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views."

Benefits Cape Wind's supporters, in contrast, stress on the project's economic benefits, and its potential to help the us reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Says Mark Rodgers, the project's spokesperson, the negative impacts of wind turbines are far less than that of any other conventional energy project. Rodgers adds that "The wealthy, with powers disproportionate to their numbers, are determined to scuttle Cape Wind." He has a supporter in Matt Palmer, the executive director of Clean Power Now, a local voluntary group. He charges that, "The Alliance to Save Nantucket is not a local grassroots organization. It is hard to maintain the appearance of a grassroots organisation when so few people give so much money. Clearly, the major funding for wind farm opponents comes from wealthy property owners worried about their distant ocean views."

Other roadblocks The us Energy Policy Act, which came into effect on August 8, 2005, is likely to further vex up the troubled project. As per the act, the Mineral Management Services, a division of the us interior department, will replace the us Army Corps of Engineers as the agency that sanctions renewable energy projects in off shore areas. This change means Cape Wind will require a new environment impact statement, and this would delay the project by about two years.

There could be other impediments. Pending in the us Congress is the Coast Guard Authorization Bill. It's expected to come up for the Congress' approval in February 2006, and if passed, it would prohibit wind turbines within one and half miles of shipping and ferry lanes.

Cape Wind will influence wind power development in the us. The world's largest greenhouse gas emitter could do well to emulate countries such as Denmark, which have wind power turbines in off shore areas.

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