Cape Cod Debates First US Offshore Wind Farm
Author: Jason Szep
Opponents seeking to block the US$900 million project include Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose family's Hyannisport compound is in sight of it. Kennedy's brother, former president John F. Kennedy, created the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961.
After several years of intense lobbying on both sides, many Cape Cod residents are deeply divided as Congress approaches a vote as early as next week that could effectively block the what would be the first US offshore wind farm.
"Lots of people around here are against it. Some worry about the view. But if it will bring down my electric bill, I'm for it," said Mort Handler, an 81-year-old real estate agent with Cape Realty in Yarmouth, a port town of 21,174 people.
The plan calls for 130 wind turbines spread over 24 square miles (62 square km) -- about the size of a small town -- 6 miles (10 km) off the coast. Each turbine tower would rise 247 feet (75 metres) out of the water, almost as much as the Statue of Liberty's 305 feet (93 metres).
At its peak, the privately funded Cape Wind Associates LLC project would generate more than 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to meet the needs of some 400,000 homes, or about 75 percent of Cape Cod and the islands.
Backers say the wind farm would save millions of dollars in energy costs and help the United States wean itself off foreign oil at a time of record-high crude prices, in a region where fuel bills have doubled in 5 years.
But opponents say the turbines' big steel blades could kill migrating birds and the sight of them could threaten the lucrative tourist industry.
Cape Cod and its nearby islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are famous for mansions, scenic beaches, hot summers, bitterly cold winters and a centuries-old fishing industry.
The wind farm would take advantage of the region's strong winds, shallow depth and historically small storm waves.
"You get people split exactly in the middle here," said Christine Ross, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in the town of Falmouth.
"There are people out there who think cynically that the last place that power is going to land is on Cape Cod. They are also concerned about safety and the visible detraction. Then there are people who see renewable energy as a fabulous thing."
A poll by the University of Delaware released this week shows a tilt on Cape Cod against the project with about 55.5 percent of 500 respondents in the Cape Cod area opposed and 43.8 percent supporting it.
"We asked why they were against it and most of the reasons were not factually supported," said Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware associate professor of marine policy.
"They expected there would be a substantial environmental impact and a very negative impact on sea creatures and wildlife," he said. "But when it's in place, there is very little if any negative impact under water."
Marine life would grow around the turbines' foundations, Kempton said. "It's probably overall a positive impact."
A US Army Corps of Engineers study estimates the blades would kill about 360 birds would be killed yearly. "When you compare that to wildlife damage from burning the equivalent amount of fossil fuels, it's far less," he said.
Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said the turbines would hurt tourism, views and and property values and complicate air and sea navigation.
Mark Rodgers of Cape Wind says the turbines would be spaced a third of a mile (km) apart to make them safe for navigation.
He said the project would generate US$25 million in annual energy savings. Denmark's offshore wind farms, similar to Cape Wind's proposal, have had little effect on property values, he added. The turbines would appear as specks from the shoreline, he said.
An unusual alliance has formed to block the project in Congress, including Kennedy and two Alaska Republicans.