Cape Wind is in the late innings of its six-year-long pursuit of federal, state, local, and popular permission to build its 130-turbine project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. Despite the length and torturous nature of Cape Wind's struggle, even with the finish line approaching, more than a decade will have been consumed in the debate over Cape Wind's plan for Nantucket Sound before a single kilowatt can be blown ashore.
Along the way, nearly all the conclusions drawn by regulators have favored the Cape Wind plan. Cape Wind's supporters imagine that the wind energy proposal for Vineyard Sound stakes a claim in the energy future. This page has been and remains skeptical. Indeed, the future for electricity generated from wind has become somewhat better defined over the past six years, and the news is that while wind will play an increasing role in power generation, its contribution will remain small. As the demand for electrical power grows, other technologies hold greater promise to supply more and more dependable quantities of the needed juice.
The Cape Wind project is among the early generation of new, more efficient, less polluting solutions to the nation's ravenous appetite for energy. The next generation of solutions to the clean energy mystery is in the labs today, including other approaches to using wind to make electricity, many of them far offshore rather than a few miles from the beach, but many of them also refinements of older, and even disused or unjustifiably discredited technologies. Read nuclear. Changing circumstances, including rising oil prices, rising demand for petroleum, and legislative enthusiasm for new energy technologies, combined with sanctions on older, polluting energy production methods, are preparing the ground for the development of new, next-generation technologies. The bet here is that wind will play a helpful but modest role in the non-polluting energy generation industries of the future. Trading wild, empty, irreplaceable Horseshoe Shoal for such small gain will be an unrewarding bargain.
What sort of energy technology will emerge from this nexus of investment and incentives? Will these factors line up behind wind farms as the energy producers of the future? Maybe, but here the bet is that other technologies will be more prominent in the mix of solutions. There's room for Cape Wind, or rather for projects like it but located elsewhere, when an analysis of the equities in such proposals finds that the benefits outweigh the detriments. It is impossible to draw that conclusion when the very small anticipated contribution from the Cape Wind installation is set against the loss of 25 acres of unmolested, feral ocean, near the shore and host to a wide variety of pleasure and commercial marine activities.
It's not enough to be merely for wind power. It is certainly not wise to heavily weight the estimates of Cape Wind's value to electricity consumers, and to the environment, or its promised innocent impacts upon living creatures and the marine ecosystem, while at the same time weighting only slightly the value of clean, wild ocean acreage right nearby. If Horseshoe Shoal were Yellowstone, there would be no debate. It's not, of course, but it's not nothing.
For us, Cape Wind has paltry upside potential and unacceptable and unredeemable downside costs. On the one hand, the consuming focus on the struggle over Cape Wind may divert important attention from the promotion and funding support of efforts to find more promising new energy technologies. And, on the other, a vast ocean wilderness may be traded for a small renewable power yield.