Power play or hot air? Islanders hear Cape Wind project debate
The stakes are high, as are passions on both sides of the debate over the controversial Cape Wind Associates proposal to place wind powered electrical generators in Nantucket Sound. After more than six years of claims, counterclaims, political maneuvering, regulatory hearings, and court cases, there is no shortage of conflicting arguments.
Last Thursday, a Cape Wind spokesperson squared off with a representative of the major group opposed to the project. The aim of the public forum was to tone down the volume, stick to the facts, clear up the myths, and offer relevant debate. An overflow crowd responded by packing into Katharine Cornell Theater Thursday evening to hear the arguments and ask questions.
"The public should have a strong say about what goes on in our waters," said moderator Judy Crawford, setting the tone for the evening, part of the Vineyard Haven Public Library evening lecture series.
Audra Parker, representing the opposition group Save Our Sound, and Mark Rodgers, representing developers Cape Wind Associates, square off in debate. Photos by Ralph Stewart
The Cape Wind project, a wind farm of 130 large turbines or windmills, is proposed for Horseshoe Shoal, a relatively shallow area in federal waters nine miles east of Oak Bluffs. On a day of average power consumption, and average production, the wind farm is projected to supply approximately three-quarters of the electricity needed to power Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket.
Mark Rodgers, representing the developers of Cape Wind, and Audra Parker, representing the opposition group Save Our Sound, were at odds over several important issues during their opening presentations, as well as in the question and answer session afterward.
Among the strongest disagreements was the matter of the cost of power produced by the wind farm. "It's something people haven't thought about, because people think wind is free," said Ms. Parker. "Wind is free, however the capital investment required to generate power from this wind is extremely capital intensive, extremely expensive." She also contended that taxpayers will foot the bill for more than $1.3 billion worth of tax credits and government subsides, which are designed to encourage development of renewable energy sources.
Footprint of Cape Wind, a 130 turbine wind energy project proposed for Nantucket Sound. Source: Cape Wind Associates
Mr. Rodgers argued that subsidies and tax credits amount to far less. "Cape Wind will be eligible for renewable energy credits worth $29 million," said Mr. Rodgers. But he would not be pinned down on the price consumers can expect to pay for his company's wind generated electricity.
The marketplace will dictate the cost, said Mr. Rogers. "We're not going to set a cost. We're not there yet. It's frustrating, but I don't have a number to give you.
"The risk of developing projects is on the shoulder of the developer. The only way this project will become a reality is if we can offer economic benefit. No one is on the hook to buy this power, we're going to have to enter a competitive landscape. If we're wrong, we could get fully permitted, and not get the contracts, and not get financed. If we can't meet that market test, the project is not going to happen."
The environmental impact of the wind farm project is also a point of much contention. Save Our Sound contends the project will negatively impact recreational boating, commercial fishing, tourism, marine life, and bird life.
Cape Wind developers insist there will be minimal, or no, impact in those areas, and says the clean energy produced will do far more to help the environment. "The alliance says their mission is to protect Nantucket Sound," said Mr. Rodgers. "Protect it from what? Clean energy? Global warming and nitrogen loading are two of the biggest threats. Cape Wind addresses these two threats.
"Southeast Massachusetts generates more electricity from heavy oil than any other fuel source. Cape Wind will produce as much electricity as a coal power plant burning 500 thousand tons of coal. The vast bulk of that electricity will be consumed on the Cape and Islands."
"We're not anti-renewable energy," said Ms. Parker, "but let's find an area that doesn't have as many conflicts. There's no mistaking, this would dramatically alter the visual impact from Cape Cod as well as from Martha's Vineyard. The costs of this project exceed its benefits. This is where their costs are the lowest, and their profits are the highest."
Some opponents of the Cape Wind project advocate siting the project elsewhere. One site being studied is a deep-water location south of Tuckernuck Island, which is located off the western tip of Nantucket.
"It would be more difficult, it would be more costly," said Ms. Parker. "I am less concerned about the profit margin that Cape Wind will make, than the cost the stakeholders will bear."
"The issue isn't how much profit you're going to make," Mr. Rodgers responded. "The threshold is, can you make any profit? Is it a project that can be financed? In our view, south of Tuckernuck is not financable. In our view it's not buildable for quite some time because of the economics."
Both sides cited long lists of supporters for their position. Cape Wind lists support from a variety of well-known national and international groups, including Greenpeace USA, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Mass Public Interest Research Group (MassPirg), the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the American Lung Association.
Save Our Sound counters with a more local list of supporters, including Senator Edward Kennedy, Congressman William Delahunt, state Sen. Robert O'Leary, and state Rep. Eric Turkington. Also listed as supporters are the towns of Chilmark, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs, as well as the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, the Cape and Island Harbormasters Association, Hy-Line Cruises, and the Steamship Authority.
Ms. Crawford, a former president of the Martha's Vineyard League of Women Voters, said she thought the forum had achieved the goal of a civilized debate. "We didn't want it to turn into a battle. We worked together to make sure it didn't," she said.