Cape Wind, on life support, deserves better

It wouldn't take much to save wind farm

THE HEADLINES DO NOT look good for the country’s first offshore wind farm. On Jan. 7, National Grid and NSTAR announced that they would be canceling their contracts to buy most of the power from Cape Wind. Since then, the project has been on life support, at best.

The lion’s share of Cape Wind’s troubles stem from the stubborn opposition of oil and gas scion Bill Koch, who is worried that the project will mar the views from his Cape Cod mansion. Koch and his allies have spent 14 years finding new reasons to stop Cape Wind’s construction: Cape Wind would be hazardous for airplanes. (The Federal Aviation Administration has declared it safe.) Cape Wind would hurt birds. (As Mass Audubon has pointed out, climate change kills far more birds than any wind farm ever could.) Cape Wind would put whales at risk. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the project poses no threat).

In reality, Cape Wind would bring much-needed clean energy to Massachusetts while jumpstarting the region’s offshore wind industry. The 130 turbines proposed for Horseshoe Shoal would provide enough power to meet 75 percent of demand on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. The clean power produced by Cape Wind would supplant an aging oil and gas plant, keeping 734,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road.

Cape Wind would create 600-1,000 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. More importantly, it would galvanize the development of the US offshore wind industry, bringing closer the day when tens of thousands of people could be employed in offshore turbine manufacture, installation, and maintenance all over New England. The construction of the brand-new $100 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal was based on this premise, with visionary New Bedford leaders betting that Cape Wind would be the first of many offshore wind projects to come.

To date, Koch and his allies have launched more than two dozen lawsuits against the project. They know they cannot win on the merits — every single lawsuit so far has failed — so they are trying to litigate the project to death. Unfortunately, the strategy seems to be paying off. Koch’s ability to fund limitless litigation has scared some investors, making it hard for Cape Wind’s developers to raise the full funding they need.

It would not take much to save Cape Wind. The first step is for the utilities to reinstate their contracts: Marcy Reed, the President of National Grid in Massachusetts, has been a champion of offshore wind in the past, and if she honors National Grid’s pledge to buy 50 percent of the power produced by Cape Wind, that would give the project a fighting chance. More than 1,500 people have signed a petition urging her to do just that, and hundreds are expected at a “Save Cape Wind” rally aimed at Reed in Boston on Feb. 28.

Cape Wind’s troubles have already hurt the prospects for offshore wind elsewhere: a recent federal auction of offshore wind development rights south of Martha’s Vineyard brought bids much lower than expected, with several parcels that failed to sell at all. Wind developers are watching the Cape Wind saga closely, and they will want to see broad public support for offshore wind before betting big on the next generation of projects.

Meet the Author

Craig Altemose

Executive Director, Better Future Project
Ultimately, the fight over Cape Wind is bigger than a single wind farm. It is a test of our democracy, pitting the desires of a single rich man against the public benefits of offshore wind. Our society needs to transition to a clean energy economy as quickly as possible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and Cape Wind is a crucial first step. It may be too late to save Cape Wind, but there is too much at stake to allow the project to go down without a fight.

Craig Altemose is executive director of the Better Future Project.