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Cape Cod: Twisting in the Wind?

Wind developers face a backlash from citizens.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 2002


Jim Gordon knows energy. For the last 26 years, he's been an energy plant developer. He was the head of a New England-based power producer named Energy Management Inc., and now he's president of Cape Wind Associates. He's also an environmentalist. He believes in the benefits of clean energy, and his latest project-a 460 MW wind farm off the coast off Cape Cod is a testament to that. The wind farm, slated to go online sometime in 2005, is the first offshore wind farm proposed in the United States. It's a bold move, but one Gordon believes is vital to the stability of the New England energy situation over the next 20 years.

We recently sat down with Gordon and asked him to give us his thoughts on the Cape Wind project.

Fortnightly: Why wind? With so many different renewable options available today, why choose wind? Why not fuel cells? Or wave technology?

Jim Gordon: Having been in the energy business for the last 26 years, I've seen the evolution in different technologies that generate electricity. A year or so ago, I decided to divest our natural gas plants, and go into renewables. Wind is the most economically viable renewable technology available today. Wind turbine technology has made quantum leaps in the areas of effectiveness and reliability. Cost was another factor. The fact that turbines are now being mass-produced makes them affordable. The final reason was because of the superior environmental characteristics of wind versus other electric generating technologies.

Fortnightly: And if there's no wind?

JG: That's why you do two years of study for a project. We've hired some of the top meteorologists in the country to look at this area [Horseshoe Shoal], and the overwhelming consensus is that this is one of the prime offshore wind energy resources in the entire United States.

Of course, there will be variability in the wind. That's why we say at peak performance, we'll be able to generate 420 net megawatts. On the average, we expect that to be around 180 MW.

Fortnightly: What will this specific project bring to Cape Cod? What are the advantages of cleaner energy using wind power?

JG: A number of things. We recognize that not everyone will fall in love with this project. However, we have developed seven successful power projects in New England, and as with any large project, you'll always have people who are opposed. We believe, though, that overwhelmingly citizens will be supportive of the project due to the benefits it will bring.

Along those lines, there are three important areas to consider:

  1. This project will contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment.
  2. Over time, this project will lower electric costs. An industry study done by an independent economic utility consulting firm estimates that in the first year, this project could reduce electric costs by $25 million. And over a 20-year period, it could reduce costs by $800 million.
  3. The final thing to look at is energy security and independence. The oil spigot is shut off again in Iraq, and there's turmoil in Venezuela. One