Monday, June 13, 2005

Hot Air

The Boston Globe's lead editorial today is entitled "Powerful Wind," and is billed as the first in a series of pieces looking at the alternative energy technologies available to reduce "greenhouse emissions." The editorial comes at an interesting time, with deep-pocketed sides years into a bruising battle over a proposed 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound. But strangely, the Boston Globe can't seem to stake a position on the project.

Here's what the Globe editors have to say about wind power and the Cape WInd project in particular:

Wind, the world's fastest-growing form of electricity production, deserves consideration in the United States and elsewhere as a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuel power. In Massachusetts, the Army Corps of Engineers' draft impact statement on Cape Wind's 130-turbine proposal for Nantucket Sound found it would not have a major effect on birds or marine life, a first-stage green light that should move this well-designed project closer to completion as the nation's first offshore wind farm.

Much opposition to Cape Wind comes from residents of the Cape and islands who worry that it will mar the seascape. Here at Nysted, one of Denmark's first two big offshore wind farms stands 6.2 miles offshore in the Baltic Sea. For an observer on land who extends his arm full length and sights in on the 72 turbines with his raised thumb, the array is about half the size of a thumbnail on the horizon. When the rotor blades are straight up, they are 367 feet above the sea, somewhat lower than the 417 feet height the Cape Cod blades would reach, and Nysted's shore is about 10 percent farther from the turbines than Craigville Beach on the Cape would be from Cape Wind's proposed turbines. From the Cape, Cape Wind's turbines might measure two-thirds of a thumbnail.

Many residents of Nysted and Denmark's west coast, where the other offshore wind farm is located, initially opposed the projects, fearing their effect on tourism and housing values. Even onetime opponents now admit that the turbines have not had an impact on either. ''It's all going up," Nysted's mayor, Lennart Damsbo-Andersen, said of property values in his harbor town of 5,500. The town's chief engineer, Hans-Erik Johnsen, said his and others' fears that tourists, especially German boaters, would shun Nysted because of the windmills were misplaced.

So then, it would come as no surprise if the editorial were to conclude (as editorials usually do) with a position in favor of the Cape Wind proposal. Ah, but it doesn't; in fact, its closing position would stop the project in its tracks for a considerable period of time. Here's what they say:

Congress should renew the production tax credit for wind, due to expire at the end of this year, and it should pass comprehensive legislation governing use of offshore waters for renewable energy and similar purposes. (emphasis supplied).

Why, where did they come up with that idea?

When the initial comment period for Cape Wind's draft environmental impact statement was opened by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back in November of 2004, here's what Ted Kennedy had to say:

"Serious questions about the need for federal and state rules to govern development on the outer continental shelf lands must be answered as part of this process. This first in the nation proposal to transfer public outer continental shelf lands to private control for unregulated large-scale commercial development requires us to take every possible precaution to protect the public interest."

Also at that time, Governor Romney, usually a very smart man, made the following statement:

"The question is, does the wind farm impinge on the beauty of one of the great natural resources on the East Coast? And it does. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist or hundreds of consultants to do an analysis on that." Apparently, the Globe disagrees, along with the Danes with all of the experience.

Romney then brought his fight to the White House, where he advocated to presidential Chief of Staff Andrew Card "the importance of coastal zoning to prevent the construction of wind farms such as the one proposed by Cape Wind." He had this remarkable statement then:

"If wind farms are going to be used to provide power for this nation, then one wind farm is going to lead to other wind farms," Romney said. "Let's not make the first one on the East Coast in Nantucket Sound."

Perhaps potential presidential voters in all of the other coastal states might wonder which location he considers preferable.

Opposition ot the project is by no means a political imperative, even for a liberal Democrat. The project has enjoyed strong support from an impressive array of organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation, the Maritime Trade Council of Greater Boston and New England, SmartPower, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Clean Water Action, Cape Clean Air, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and Clean Power Now, which has chapters on the Cape and islands. All of these groups have encourage the Governor and Senator to reconsider their opposition to the project, to no avail. And in public comment periods across the Cape, the project has found considerable support. And two of Romney's key environmental advisors have publicly endorsed it.

Susan Tierney, former secretary of environmental affairs under Gov. William Weld, former commissioner of the Department of Public Utilities under Gov. Michael Dukakis, and former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton Administration, was appointed chairwoman of the volunteer Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force in June 2003 by Gov. Mitt Romney's Environmental Affairs Secretary, Ellen Roy Herzfelder. In a letter to the Army Corp of Engineers in December 2004, she said the Corps' draft environmental report "is one of the most thorough that I have ever seen. I agree with the Army Corps of Engineers' independent conclusions that this project is needed, and I agree that the project's overall portfolio of environmental and socio-economic impacts is minimal, especially in comparison to the public benefits associated with the production of energy without greenhouse gas emissions."

Also supporting the project is Romney's Secretary of Commonwealth Development, Douglas Foy, former head of the Conservation Law Foundation.

But well-heeled opponents are committed. Having lost their efforts to halt the project in the courts, opponents of the project, backed with funding from some of the Capes wealthiest property owners, are looking to Kennedy and Romney to use their political might to stop it.

One influential political leader whose voice has remained mute is -- well, guess. He is a Nantucket homeowner and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. And he just finished campaigning for something. That's right folks, Jawn Kerry has yet to be heard from.The reason? Kerry feels that, as a Massachusetts senator, his obligation is to take his time before expressing any opinion.

Romney's White House ties and lobbying effort may be paying off. Last fall, Sen. Warner sought to slip language into a military appropriations bill that would have stripped the Corps of its authority over offshore wind. Reports at the time suggested it was at the behest of Kennedy. And in May, Senators Lamar Alexander and John Warner filed federal legislation that would disqualify wind farms located off coasts, near military bases, in national parks, and in other potentially sensitive locations from receiving a crucial federal tax subsidy.

The strategy of the opponents is clearly to drag the process out ad infinitum, until Cape Wind runs out of money or will power. The strategy appears to be having some success:

Testifying in Washington before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dennis Duffy, vice president of regulatory affairs for Cape Wind Associates, said if the nation's offshore wind industry is going to thrive, the U.S. government must coordinate its energy and environmental policies.

''The federal regulatory process, under current law, is both thorough and comprehensive,'' Duffy said. ''But, importantly, it lacks any requirement that would limit the duration of the project review period, which in some cases can open the door for opponents to try to use delay as an end in itself.''

In my view, this controversy firmly pits the true environmentalist against the hypocrite. Chiefly at the instigation of the environmental advocates, the United States Congress and the federal government have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in wind energy research and development over the past several decades. It is now just beginning to come into its own as an economically viable source of clean energy in the United States (chiefly due to federal income tax credits for development), it has proven itself in other parts of the world. And yet here in Massachusetts, the political powers that be, including Senator Kennedy who trumpeted his support for green energy for decades, line up in favor of who? The first truly viable and meaningful project to make good on those hudreds of millions of federal dollars? The professional environmentalists who know what they're talking about and support the project?

No. They are siding with a band of ersatz environmentalists, who raise phoney issues about fishing and birds in an effort to protect the views of million dollar homes.

It's the Conservation Law Foundation, SmartPower, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Clean Water Action, Cape Clean Air, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and Clean Power Now against who? A bunch of wealthy Cape & Islanders who call themselves environmentalists because their precious "view" is at stake.

It is a view that, according to the Cape Cod Times editorial board, would amount to two-thirds of a thumbnail.

[I think I'll have to link this with the Beltway Traffic Jam -- Mr. Joyner should enjoy the irony!]
For a comprehensive list of news links covering the history of this project, go here.
Read Cape Wind's Draft EIS here.

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