Growing costs of wind energy plan


To the Editor:

The articles this week about the Vineyard Power Co-op’s site-planning meeting raised two concerns for me. As environmental Armageddon unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico, miners die in West Virginia and China, floods of fly-ash inundate rural towns, and the administration doubles down on environmental risk by having taxpayers underwrite a wave of new nuclear power plant construction capable of destroying the entire country, alternative energy sources rise to the top of our personal and national agendas. My first concern is that the rush to do good needs to be tempered by sound numbers. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, we all share enthusiasm for the concept of a co-op that would let us make decisions about our own energy future. The Vineyard Power Co-op’s initial business plan in July 2009 assumed wind turbine costs of $140 million and projected that members would save $500 annually on their electric bills. By the co-op’s first membership meeting, capital costs drifted to $170 million. This week’s news from the site-planning meeting is that costs have floated to between $217 and $267 million, and presumably the $500 annual savings forecast for members is still solid. Good intentions are not sufficient when the numbers reach the stratosphere, with no sign of how high they will really go.

It would seem appropriate that we as a concerned community should be asking ourselves at this point what else could we be doing with $220 million (or a lot less) to embark on a responsible energy future before pinning all our hopes and money on 16 or 17 windmills planted in harm’s way. If it turns out after a rigorous analysis of alternatives that wind power still makes the most economic and financial sense, then let’s go forward with a solid understanding of the risks and true costs. My second concern relates to our own environment and the love of this place that we share. When Paul Pimentel, a well-respected expert, describes the impact of moving the turbines out to sea as, “… it doesn’t cost as much as you might think to get out further,” it causes me to wonder why Cape Wind didn’t come to the same conclusion and spare us all the discord and concern their site poses for the Cape and Islands. Now that the Department of Interior has downsized Cape Wind from 170 to 130 turbines, it is worth noting that there has not been much hand-wringing over the financial implications of almost a 25 percent cut in energy production capacity. Perhaps we as the taxpayers and the ratepayers are picking up the tab anyway, so Mr. Gordon [president, Cape Wind Assoc.] still has a big smile for the cameras.

Jeff Parker