Five years ago, when developers applied for a federal permit to build the world’s largest offshore wind-energy project off the Cape Cod coast, a widely held presumption was that the project ought to go forward because wind power is inherently good and that Nantucket Sound was as good a place as any to begin the off-shore renewable energy movement.
But the Cape Wind project hasn’t moved forward and remains mired in controversy as evidence piles up that its developers chose perhaps the worst location. So, instead of leading the renewable energy movement into the future, Cape Wind may be imperiling that very movement by ignoring legitimate and serious flaws in its project.
Consider the record now confronting this project:
n In a study released Sept. 28, the Department of Defense announced that wind plants can interfere with military radar systems if built in the radar’s line of sight. The early warning radar (PAVE PAWS) at Cape Cod Air Force Station is one of only two such systems in the continental U.S. and is near the site selected by Cape Wind for their proposed complex of 130 turbines, each now 440 feet in height. Early warning radars are necessary to detect and track objects at extreme ranges, with high confidence and accuracy, and are critical to national security.
n Earlier this year, Congress mandated that the Coast Guard assess navigation hazards posed by the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound because the project’s location, which is in a very high vessel traffic area within a triangle bordered by ferry routes and the main shipping lane, clearly puts passenger travel and general maritime traffic at risk.
n The developer finally disclosed in a recent report to the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS), now responsible for the federal permit review process, that if its storage tanks holding 40,000 gallons of transformer oil are breached and spill their contents into Nantucket Sound, the oil has a better than 90 percent chance of reaching and soiling Sound-facing beaches (not to mention the devastating impact on wildlife).
n More than 400,000 flights a year through Nantucket Sound airspace would have to pass just above a field of 130 turbines, each 440 feet tall, just 60 feet short of the 500-foot floor that small aircraft fly above. Cape Approach air traffic controllers long ago dubbed this project “an accident waiting to happen.” The Defense Department study acknowledges the need for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to undertake additional testing of radar interference with air traffic control radar systems.
And still Cape Wind shrugs its shoulders, implying that there are no serious issues.
When Rep. William Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, called for the FAA to study radar interference and the project’s potential risk to aviation, Cape Wind dismissed the request as “desperate” and “suspect.”
The very same government that promotes the development of renewable energy must also make assessments along the way about the appropriateness of individual projects and whether or not the public’s best interests are being served or whether the projects pose unacceptable risks. That is neither desperate nor suspect, but a responsible reaction when lives are potentially at risk.
Saying no to Cape Wind is not saying no to offshore wind energy; it is simply an acknowledgement that legitimate concerns over public safety, wildlife endangerment and economic impacts — to name a few of the leading concerns — outweigh any benefits that might come from siting Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound.
And there was nothing desperate or suspect when Cape and Island communities insisted on a legitimate assessment of oil spill risk even though the developer dragged its heels on producing such an assessment. It is no wonder that they wouldn’t want communities to know that 40,000 gallons of a potentially toxic substance sits just off their beaches, but we have a right to know and they have a duty to tell us.
Cape Wind long ago tried to frame this as a battle between wealthy landowners and a benevolent developer trying to lead the country to energy independence. But this has always been about whether that developer should be allowed to enrich himself from publicly owned land and publicly funded subsidies and tax credits in the middle of a state-protected marine sanctuary while putting our safety and our very culture at risk.
It appears that Cape Wind has finally reached the tipping point, and that the answer is no. We need to view the $1.3 billion in state and federal subsidies that Cape Wind would reap from this project as our money, our investment in renewable energy, and take that off the table so we can look to more viable projects in which to invest public funds and resources.
Charles Vinick is president and chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.