A plan to anchor 170 towering wind turbines five miles off the coast of Cape Cod has created some unusual foes.
On one side are the Humane Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the International Wildlife Coalition and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., among others. On the other side are groups that might normally be considered allies, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace.
They're clashing over a power source that defenders say will offer bountiful clean energy to the region, but opponents say will blight the view off the Massachusetts cape, kill birds and harm fishing and tourism.
The $700 million wind-power project, which has won preliminary approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is now under environmental review.
"We support the development of responsible alternative energy policy," says Isaac Rosen, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a recently incorporated neighborhood association set up to oppose the wind-power project. "But Cape Wind Associates' proposal … goes against everything for which the character of the cape is known worldwide."
The debate is revealing how even so-called renewable energy sources are rarely innocuous.
NIMBY at Play?
Wind power — the fastest-growing energy resource in the world, according to the Department of Energy — does not leach pollutants or gobble up finite resources. But wind turbines dot prime landscapes, generate noise and can pose a hazard to birds and other wildlife. And in nearly every place where companies have set up or proposed wind plants, including California, Wisconsin, West Virginia, New York, Kansas, Maine and now Massachusetts, local groups have risen up in protest.
Deborah Donovan, head of the New England policy project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, argues wind power's ill effects don't stack up against its benefits and that people are suffering from a "not in my back yard" mentality.
"Society has to at some point accept that if we want electricity we have to get it from somewhere and wherever that is, it won't be zero impact," she says.
Worldwide, the United States lags behind many European countries in generating wind power. Denmark relies on wind for 16 percent of its power, for example, and wind-generating capacity jumped by almost a third throughout the world last year. In the United States, companies added 1,700 megawatts of wind power last year, enough to provide electricity for 500,000 homes.
The proposed project at Cape Cod by Cape Wind Associates would entail anchoring turbines in a 28-square- mile grid pattern on a five-mile-long stretch of offshore shallow waters known as Horseshoe Shoals. Each carbon-steel turbine would rise about 40 stories above the water line — taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The company chose the Horseshoe Shoals for the powerful breezes that consistently blow over the area. Mark Rodgers of Cape Wind Associates says the company expects the turbines to generate an average of 170 megawatts of power a day. On very windy days, it hopes to generate up to 420 megawatts a day.
"It would be a major renewable project in New England," says Rodgers. "It would put the region toward the top of the list in the entire country as getting most of its power from a nonpolluting renewable resource."