The Cape Wind Controversy

When it comes to sustainable development projects, sometimes that which is sustained most consistently is controversy.

The Cape Wind Project outlines a proposal to construct the United States’ first offshore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Over the past ten years, as proponents of the project have sought permits and approval for the project from numerous local, state, and federal governing bodies, Cape Wind has generated significant controversy, particularly from those who live in the vicinity of the site where the wind farm will be built. Leading the opposition is the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a non-profit environmental organization “dedicated to the long-term preservation of Nantucket Sound.”

Cape Wind’s opponents cite several reasons for lobbying against the project, several of which were mentioned in the comments posted in response to the previous Just Means Sustainable Development editorial: The First Offshore Wind Farm in the U.S.

The most compelling opposing arguments are as follows:

Cape Wind will Disturb the Peace and Beauty of Nantucket Sound

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound argues that “the proposed wind energy plant is an expansive industrial complex…flashing red and amber lights, as well as fog horns, would cause visual, noise, and light pollution.” They argue that this is sort of “aesthetic pollution” is especially damaging in a place like Nantucket Sound, which is widely renown for its natural beauty and historic significance. Residents of the sound worry that the proposed wind turbines would ruin views of the horizon, decreasing real estate values, hampering beach tourism, and damaging popular yachting areas.

Residents will Bear the Brunt of Increased Energy Costs

Last May, Cape Wind finalized a contract with National Grid, stipulating that the energy company would purchase 50% of the energy produced by the wind farm for a fixed rate, over a 15 year period. The agreement is set to go into effect beginning in 2013. The price is set at 20.7 cents/kWh, a figure which breaks down as follows: 12.5 cents/KWh for the base cost of energy, 6.7 cents/kWh to cover Renewable Energy Certificates (to help meet renewable energy mandates), and 1.5 cents/kWh to compensate for market price volatility. The 20.7 cents/kWh price is set to increase at an annual rate of 3.5 percent, fixed for the duration of the 15 year contract. Before any increases, it is already 5.14 cents/kWh higher than the current average price of electricity in Massachusetts: 15. 56 cents/kWh (as of January 2010.)

Opponents of the Cape Wind project in general, and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in particular, argue that this fixed price translates into hundreds of millions of collective additional dollars that Massachusetts residents will be forced to pay for their electricity.

Other opposition arguments are based on the idea that the Cape Wind Project presents a number of environmental and safety hazards, will disrupt marine habitats, and pose a serious threat to the local fishing industry.

Next up: a rebuttal from Cape Wind proponents.