Editorial : Distant no more
To Islanders, the debate over the Cape Wind plan for Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound was like distant thunder. The fervent wind power advocates here engaged, but most of us looked on benignly, if we looked on at all.
Proposals to locate wind turbine installations in Buzzards Bay, some of them close to the North Shore of Naushon Island, a part of the Elizabeth Islands, themselves a part of Gosnold, itself a part of Dukes County, stimulated even less concern.
There was some disdain evidenced here for the arguments made against Cape Wind by waterfront property owners in the Hyannis/Hyannisport area and by business interests who complained that the wind farm's aesthetic assault would diminish the shorefront owners' enjoyment of their property and the desirability of the Cape as a tourist destination. There was no concern at all for those on private Naushon whose enjoyment of their waterfront might be diminished.
The arguments of fishermen, commercial and sport, of bird lovers, of sailors and of all the others with some sort of stake, however loosely defined, in Horseshoe Shoal and Buzzards Bay attracted few adherents.
The arguments became familiar, but neither enlightening nor compelling from the typical Vineyarder's vantage point.
That's changed to a considerable degree as the Commonwealth has set its cap for control of industrial development, including wind farms and mining, in nearshore areas around the Vineyard and greater Dukes County and for control, if it is not asserted by local towns and the region, over even some land-based wind turbine installations. Islanders want control and, in a hearing held here last week, they made their demand perfectly clear. It was a not-in-our-backyard argument, along with a corollary that amounted to if-it-has-to-be-in-our-backyard-we-want-the-final-say. And, that's exactly as it should be, because among the calculations that must be carefully made in deciding on such sizable and imposing developments is the one that asks whether the benefit outweighs the loss. Among the most important losses, in an area such as this one, is the loss of the Vineyard's hard-won and exceptional status as an outpost of clean and distinct environmental value in the heart of the Eastern Megalopolis.
Among the elements fundamental to that calculation are these. Attention to wind energy as a desirable, pollution-free resource for electrical power generation is rising worldwide. In some countries, and in some parts of this country, wind-generated power has already made an impact. Still, wind energy production is a modest component in the mix of electrical power generation and will be well into the foreseeable future.
"Wind and solar energy already play an important part in a few countries," according to a 2007 article in The Economist. "Around 20 percent of Denmark's electricity comes from wind and about 80 percent of China's hot water from solar energy. But worldwide, those two energy sources barely register." Wind contributes .064 percent of the total energy mix worldwide. About 87 percent of the world supply of electrical energy comes from non-renewables such as coal, oil, gas, and nuclear. The rest is from renewables, of which wind figures least.
Industrial producers of electricity in the developed countries are investing huge sums to clean the emissions from their power plants. In the aggregate, their total investment in new technologies to improve their old technology plants, without including government incentives such as production tax credits and innovation grants directed at these non-renewable technologies, dwarfs worldwide expenditures to develop efficient and substantial wind energy generation.
In Spain, one of several European countries with substantial expressed determination to increase the share of electrical power generated from renewables, the current share of green power in the energy mix is 17.2 percent, greatest among the industrialized nations. This includes wind, but not exclusively, or even substantially. Spain's near-term goal for all renewables is 29 percent, but best estimates are that the goal will be missed by a large margin.
Increasing demand worldwide for electrical power has helped to fuel the boom in investment in old and new technology, but the key to the increasing development of wind energy supplies is the price of carbon-based fuels and the willingness of industrialized countries to underwrite with subsidies the development of wind energy installations. There is also the question of how quickly the national grid in this country will be expanded and made more efficient.
What all this adds up to is the need for residents of the Vineyard to do their own private cost-benefit analysis, recognizing the uncertainties facing wind energy producers and the competition from other renewable energy sources, as well as the potential for technological advances in the use of non-renewables for electric generation. All of this must be set against the undoubted, but incalculable value of clean, enjoyable, beautiful nearshore waters from which we derive so much pleasure and benefit. It is in these areas that developers will propose to erect wind turbines and mine the seabed, and it is in these areas that the state of Massachusetts has directed them to do so.
In light of this macro picture, to give our shore and get in return a clean, energy generating plant of modest size and uncertain future, in a national energy landscape that is highly variable and intensely competitive, seems a bad trade indeed.