Cape Wind

By Audra Parker

At first glance, the proposed Cape Wind offshore wind power plant seems like a good idea: clean energy, no discharge of air pollutants and conversion of a seemingly endless supply of wind into electricity. So what's wrong with the project?

Like many ideas that look good on the surface, this one fails when you begin to look into the details. The benefits to the public are small, while the costs are huge. The Cape Wind project is not a panacea for our excessive energy consumption. Cape Wind naturally focuses public attention on its benefits, but there are legitimate concerns over this industrial-scale wind plant, beyond just the aesthetics, that are significant and have yet to be addressed. There are questions raised over the past three years by fishermen, pilots, boaters, business owners, bird enthusiasts, and state and local politicians. How will the project affect navigational safety? What impact will it have on tourism and property values? What is the real threat posed to birds and other wildlife? Is this project the best use of public money and public land?

We have been assured by Cape Wind that all of our questions will be answered in the upcoming draft Environmental Impact Statement - or DEIS - being produced by the Army Corps of Engineers. But we expect that will not be the case.

For example, we don't know where the true boundary between state and federal waters lies. Cape Wind and the Army Corps have been using the wrong map, and there are rock formations that may move the state boundary further out. Governor Romney has recognized the boundary issue is an important one that affects the state's role in this project. He has asked the Army Corps to hold off on releasing the DEIS until the actual state-federal boundary issue is settled. But the Army Corps has refused his request and said it is going to release the document regardless.

What is the nature of the 40,000 gallons of dielectric transformer oil that Cape Wind is planning to store on the transformer platform that will sit in the middle of Nantucket Sound? We would like to know which beaches and sensitive coastal areas would be harmed if that tank ruptured.

We would like to know how the public will be compensated for the private use of 24 square miles of public land. As it now stands, Cape Wind gets this land for free plus it gets taxpayer subsidies - $28 million a year in federal subsidies (if the production tax credit is renewed) and another estimated $40 million in state green credits. We, the public, are paying a developer to make money.

We would like to know how this risky project will be insured against failure before Nantucket Sound becomes an industrial experiment. Cape Wind has held up the world's largest offshore wind power plant, in Horns Rev, Denmark, as a model for its own project. This plant was dismantled this past summer, after less than 2 years of operation, because of major failures with the turbines. All 80 turbines were transported back to shore for repairs at a cost of millions of dollars.

When this massive federal document is released, we need to make sure it answers all of our questions. We need to make sure that the DEIS, which is largely based on studies paid for by Cape Wind, does so objectively.

This is the first offshore wind project in the US and will set the stage for hundreds of additional turbines within Nantucket Sound and potentially thousands more up and down our coastlines. We need enough time to digest the impacts of this project, understand them and challenge them.

If you want to get involved to protect Nantucket Sound, before it is too late, visit us at Wind power may be renewable, but Nantucket Sound is not.

Broadcast September 21, 2004

Audra Parker is the Assistant Director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound