Friday, January 20, 2006

Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Bill McKibben Face Off on the Cape Wind Issue

Bobby Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to the proposed wind farm off Cape Cod has prompted a public challenge to his point of view, and not just by the typical loonies who like to blame anyone named Kennedy for just about everything.

Rather, a group of 150 environmentalists wrote him a public letter earlier this month, asking him to change his mind about the Cape Wind project, which would produce enough power to supply 75 percent of Cape Cod’s energy.

The letter was a reaction to a Times op-ed piece that Kennedy wrote about a month ago, in which he argued that Cape Wind was the right project in the wrong place:

These turbines are less than six miles from shore and would be seen from Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Hundreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views. The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore. A transformer substation rising 100 feet above the sound would house giant helicopter pads and 40,000 gallons of potentially hazardous oil. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the project will damage the views from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands. The Humane Society estimates the whirling turbines could every year kill thousands of migrating songbirds and sea ducks.

Grist, an online magazine that covers environmental topics, wrote about the issue and quoted Kennedy:

Kennedy said in the interview that his primary concern is not the project's impact on wild sea life and ocean views, but the economic impact it would have on the local fishing community. "It will evict more than 100 of Cape Cod's treasured commercial fishermen who run sustainable operations from their traditional fishing grounds, and destroy their livelihood," he said, explaining that their nets would get tangled in the electric cables on the seabed. According to Kennedy, the project could have an over $1 billion impact on the local fishing industry and the tourist economy, given the blighted views and obstacles it would pose to the thousands of recreational sailors who visit Nantucket Sound annually.

The letter-writers are persuasive though. They argue that Cape Wind is an essential first step toward controlling global warming, an issue that transcends local environmental concerns:

Cape Wind would provide roughly 75 percent of the electricity for Cape Cod. It is crucial to establishing America's economic and environmental leadership on global warming. Cape Wind would prove the viability of wind as a good source of energy to American investors, politicians and the public, and will address issues of poverty and social justice in greater Boston. The management of Cape Wind plans to use local port facilities with available capacity, as a manufacturing center for wind farms up and down the East Coast. That manufacturing facility would create hundreds of jobs for under or unemployed residents of the area.

Those who signed the letter include Bill McKibben, Russell Long (founder of Bluewater Network), and John Passacantando (executive director of Greenpeace). There are also a couple of dozen people associated with Middlebury College, which is where McKibben lives and (I think) teaches, and many others whose names will be familiar to people who keep up with environmental issues. (Kennedy, by the way, wrote the foreword to my book, back at a time when, as a reporter, I knew him fairly well and would talk to him often about local environmental issues; in a coincidence that’s interesting to me but probably to nobody else, Jean E. Thompson Black, who acquired and edited the book for Yale University Press, also signed the letter to Kennedy.)

Kennedy has said he’d meet with some of the people who wrote the letter. He told Grist he’d try to change their minds. He says if Cape Wind would simply move its project another six miles offshore, he’d support it. McKibben and company however say that would add another three years to the project’s completion time, which is too much.


Blogger Bugsy said...

There are not a lot of folks on Cape Cod that support Cape Wind and none of the Letter writers you mention live on the Cape.

We are moving toward a decentralized infrastructure model on the Cape. Building a utility scale project that feeds an unwanted grid does not move us forward.

Cape Wind is a step back for the Cape and we oppose it.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Oh, that was going to be my comment, Bugsy (nice handle, BTW). All areas, including the wayward Block Island, need an intergrated resource plan or IRP that is based upon local needs, both baseline and peak, growth, resources, economics, auxiliary emergency power, and so forth. So if a huge offshore wind turbine farm isn't in the IRP, why go any further?

OK, don't mention FERC and its requirements, which might be imposed on a local community without any redress - to buy the more expensive power. Insideous, huh?

But I'm not taking a position, other than the locals should have input, including whether the inshore scallop dredge industry would be affected, and whether the IRP has been considered. I think of it as a project on the scale of the LNG plant being considered for Long Island Sound.

I would take issue with one statement that the wind turbine farm would increase local employment. The kinds of companies that have experienced help are located in Houston, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan. Exactly what kind of "maintenance" were we thinking about, cleaning up dead birds or something? Leading disoriented whales away? I don't get it.

Best of luck to Nantucket for figuring out what should be done. Think globally; act locally.

4:17 PM  

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