A fight to block alternative fuel development that could replace oil-burning power plants for communities along the Nantucket Sound has created an unusual alliance on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy backing the fight against the green proposal.
Mr. Kennedy, a staunch environmentalist, opposes the Cape Wind project, which will place windmills in the sound’s shallows to create electricity for customers in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Critics say the Massachusetts Democrat doesn’t want the Cape Wind project in his own back yard along with 130 windmills that might clutter the water view of the Kennedy clan’s vacation home. Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts’ junior senator and another key green ally, called attempts to derail the project an “insult.”
Opponents of the project say it should not go forward until federal guidelines are established and it has undergone a competitive bidding process.
“Senator Kennedy has real environmental and economic concerns, and the federal government continues to lack a national policy and process to guide offshore alternative energy development,” said Melissa Wagoner, Mr. Kennedy’s spokeswoman.
Mr. Kennedy, who has a 95 percent vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters, has recruited the help of Rep. Don Young of Alaska — a conservative Republican and foe of environmentalists who received a zero ranking from the league last year.
Mr. Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is lobbying members of a House-Senate conference on the Coast Guard supplemental appropriations bill.
He wants them to add his proposal to require windmills to be set back 1.5 nautical miles from any shipping or ferry lanes. Such a buffer requirement would make the Cape Wind project impossible in such a narrow sound.
“Given the potential dangers of siting one of these wind farms in a busy shipping area, [Mr. Kennedy] thinks it is worth the conferees’ consideration,” Miss Wagoner said.
However, developers of the Cape Wind project say the legislation is specifically directed at them, would cripple the project economically and is a classic case of the “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) attitude toward developments that serve the common good.
“The NIMBY opponents have spent more than $1 million lobbying in D.C.,” says Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind project spokesman. “The Young amendment will kill Cape Wind in one fell swoop, which appears to be the intention.
“It would also impose on the U.S. the most stringent laws in the world on offshore wind energy development,” said Mr. Rodgers, who noted that oil drilling rigs are only required to be 500 feet from shipping lanes.
Mr. Young’s spokesman declined to comment on the legislation.
However, in a letter to the conferees, Mr. Young specifically refers to the Cape Wind project, which he says encompasses 24 square miles with windmills reaching 417 feet, and is “located in water deep enough that ships can enter into the area and do so regularly.”
“I know others oppose the project entirely on a wide variety of economic, environmental, and tourism standards,” Mr. Young’s letter stated.
“I am not necessarily opposed to the project, but I am convinced we need a set of objective navigational safety standards that will assure that wind energy projects are properly sited with regard to navigational safety and national security,” Mr. Young wrote.
Massachusetts declared Nantucket Sound an ocean sanctuary in the 1970s, thus banning disturbance of nearly the entire seabed as well as the view.
Mark Forest, chief of staff for Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat who represents the Nantucket area, called it “a very contentious battle.”
“We have a need for energy, but there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it — this is the wrong way,” Mr. Forest said.
Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, has issued a statement opposing Mr. Young’s legislative move.
“The Young amendment is an insult to Americans who care about good government. I oppose this backdoor amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization bill, which — if passed — will derail offshore wind projects across the nation,” he said.
Mr. Rodgers said the use of wind power would reduce air pollution from the oil-fired Canal Power plant and ease the demand for electricity throughout New England, which faces the threat of rolling blackouts during cold winter days.
Asked about Mr. Kennedy’s opposition to the plan, Mr. Rodgers said, “To say you favor wind power, but not here, where you live in a very windy place, calls into question your real commitment to wind power.”