Cape Wind Is Not the Answer

By Audra Parker

(Listen to an audio version of this essay).

The debate over the Cape Wind project tends to focus on whether or not we should build a wind plant in Nantucket Sound. But this debate ought to be broader and address the best way for us to meet our nation's rising energy demand.

Generating clean energy is not an all or nothing venture; it is not a choice between Cape Wind and no clean energy at all. We have options that we can immediately pursue to meet our energy needs without ruining Nantucket Sound.

Energy efficiency programs that reduce demand are a great alternative. They are as straightforward as adopting standards for energy efficient appliances. And they are as dramatic as a study by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership that shows we could more than satisfy our growth in demand by achieving just half of our energy efficiency potential.

Upgrading fossil fuel plants with higher efficiency, cleaner fuel is also more cost effective and less intrusive. For example, upgrading Canal Electric could achieve the same environmental benefits as the proposed Cape Wind project at a fraction of the cost.

Another attractive alternative that is becoming more of a reality is offshore wind in remote deep water sites. This option offers the benefits of wind generation but without many of the negative impacts of near shore sites.

In Europe, the leader in offshore wind energy, there are already deep water projects in the works. A pilot project in Scotland will install two wind turbines more than twelve miles off the coast and in depths of more than 150 feet, far further and deeper than the proposed Cape Wind project. Expected to begin producing electricity this year, this project is being closely watched for its potential to generate power without destroying the landscape or endangering vessel traffic.

Floating offshore wind turbines are being explored for even further distances. The Energy Research Center of the Netherlands is studying the feasibility of wind plants located from 30 to 120 miles from shore. In Norway, an energy group is planning to deploy a deep water floating turbine next year. And this newest of wind technologies is projected to be economical within a decade by the US's own National Renewable Energy Lab.

Here in the US, deep water sites are also gaining attention. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, General Electric and the US Department of Energy have partnered to create the Offshore Wind Collaborative. Their goal is to further the development of offshore wind, especially remote deep water sites off the Northeast coast.
Offshore wind technology is advancing so rapidly that sacrificing Nantucket Sound is short sighted. In the near future, the public could get the same benefits from building an offshore wind plant further out to sea with far fewer negative impacts. And at the same time, we would avoid being saddled with what may well become an obsolete technology.

Contrary to claims made by proponents of Cape Wind, this project is not vital to the development of the offshore wind industry. We already have ample experience in Europe that we can leverage, and a project surrounded by controversy and local opposition won't help the development of offshore wind. When the Department of Interior, newly in charge of renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, releases their regulations for offshore wind, there will be many projects seeking permits in less conflicted sites. These well-sited and supported projects will provide far more positive experience than what would ever be learned from Cape Wind.

It is clear that we have options to meet our energy needs. With alternatives such as energy efficiency programs and the possibility of deep water sites, we don't have to needlessly sacrifice the beauty and environment of Nantucket Sound for the gain and claims of a private developer.

Broadcast February 24, 2006

Audra Parker is communications director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound