Wind developers face a backlash from citizens.
The Boston, Mass.-based energy firm Cape Wind Associates is proposing something never-before-done in the United States. The wind farm developers are proposing to build an offshore wind farm just a few miles from the historic, and tourist-packed, beaches of Cape Cod. And, as one might expect, the residents of the Cape aren't welcoming the proposal. In fact, they have been packing themselves into town halls and school auditoriums for months to voice their disapproval. The traveled to Boston to talk about the issues with the wind developers, then to Barnstable Town Hall on Cape Cod to get the citizens' side. The magazine tried to find out why some Cape Cod citizens are resistant to a technology that has been touted as the world's most environmentally friendly. Especially since a recent New England Independent Systems Operator report () finds that the region is headed for 40 percent load growth over the next 20 years.
"We have become more and more dependent on natural gas. The ISO says we will have deliverability problems as near as 2003, by almost 1,750 MW. And, by 2005, that number could rise to 3,300 MW. A 420 MW project could be very useful to ensure reliability in this area," says Albert Benson, a specialist with the U.S. Department of Energy.
In addition, the Massachusetts state legislature has established a renewable portfolio standard that took effect on April 26, which sets a minimum standard by which retail electricity product sold to Massachusetts end-use customers by a retail electricity supplier shall include a minimum percentage of electricity energy sales with renewable generation attributes. The minimum will start at 1 percent in 2003, and rise to 4 percent by 2009.
If Not Wind, Then What?
Craig Olmsted and Dennis Duffy, Cape Wind Associates' vice presidents of operations and regulatory affairs, respectively, say that what they are trying to do is create a solution to a growing problem.
The Cape Wind project, expected to be up and running sometime in 2005, proposes 150 to 175 wind turbines be constructed off the coast of Nantucket Sound-in an area known to locals, fishermen, and yachtsmen as Horseshoe Shoal. Each turbine will stand more than 400 feet, and at maximum productivity, will produce 420 MW of power. However, due to the instability of wind flows, a more likely average estimate is 170 KW.
"What we do for a living is develop power projects. And we're fortunate to be able to sit back and take a shot at something that is environmentally as friendly as you can get," says Olmsted.
A Brouhaha in Barnstable
No punches were pulled at a town meeting on wind power.
The Constitution of the United States provides for citizens to both gather, and speak freely, without fear of persecution. This vision was in clear practice on April 11, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a town meeting in Barnstable, Massachusetts-the hub of activity and controversy over a proposed offshore wind farm project on Cape Cod.
The sole purpose of this meeting was to gather public comments on an application submitted by Cape Wind Associates to construct a single tower on Horseshoe Shoal in order to gather wind, current, and atmospheric data. From the outset, the moderator of the meeting made it very clear that this meeting was not about the wind farm itself-it was simply to get public opinion on a single structure. However, as is usually the case, emotions ran high, and the focus quickly veered to the wind farm project itself.
As one might imagine, the Cape Codders are very passionate about this issue. On this night, nearly 200 people packed the auditorium in the Barnstable Town Hall. Two uniformed police officers stood by, in case things got out of hand. A large "traffic light" was set up in front of the speaker's podium, so there would be no running over the allotted three-minute time period for comments. It was obvious the Corps of Engineers knew what they were doing, and were ready to run a tight meeting.
Once the opening remarks were made, Cape Wind Associates made a short presentation, and the meeting moved right into public comments. For nearly three hours, citizens of the Cape spoke up, and spoke with feeling. Many were against the project-vehemently against it-and, as was to be expected, many were for it. Following are just a few excerpts from people opposed to the project:
- "Quite frankly, I question why this project is still alive. The Town Council has voted against it. ... This is just another commentary on developers who refuse to listen to the citizens and villagers. ... Do not industrialize Nantucket Sound. Make no mistake, this is not about renewable energy. This is about saving a cherished public resource from ruin and privatization. ... This test tower is the camel's nose under the tent. It's simply a scheme to get the larger project approved." -
- "Nobody in Barnstable is against renewable energy. It's the spot that has been chosen that they are against. ... The impacts on the bird and fish communities, issues concerning visibility, the sound of these things, the lighting-there are thousands of issues. ... We feel it's the wrong place. Seventy percent of the earth is covered with water, [so] it's inconceivable that this is the only place it can go. If it moves, we will be behind these folks with the wind farm 100 percent."-
- "I am a NIMBY. ... Tourists [come to Cape Cod] to see rural, pristine beaches. They don't want to look and see a field of 465-foot towers. The loss in tourism [if this project goes ahead] could be staggering.
"Now I'll put on my other hat as a charter fisherman. Horseshoe Shoal is a sanctuary for fishermen. When the wind blows, we go to Horseshoe Shoal because it's calmer!"-
- "I'm opposed to this project ... the result of which would be the rape of a pristine natural resource, and a hazard to navigation."-
But, just as the opposition had the opportunity to voice their concerns, the proponents of the project had their chance, as well. Supporters spoke passionately about the benefits of renewable energy, and wind energy in particular, and what this wind farm project could bring to Cape Cod. See some of their comments below:
- "According to the developer, the information gathered from this tower will not only be used for the wind farm development, but will also be shared with the Coast Guard, FAA, and other state and federal agencies. ... During a maritime emergency, it would be good to know this data if the Coast Guard has to go into a lifesaving procedure.
On a larger scale, this wind farm project is important to us as a region, due to the energy impact it will have during peak demand periods. We have become more and more dependent on natural gas. ... A 420 MW project could be very useful to ensure reliability in this area."-
- "I am the president of the Cape & Islands Self Reliance Corporation, which has been promoting renewable energy for two decades. I am in favor of the wind-monitoring tower on Horseshoe Shoal. ... I am very familiar with wind energy, as I had a wind generator for 15 years. ... and I've also sailed the waters of Horseshoe Shoal all my life.
It's clear that most everyone wants a source of renewable energy. ... [I think] the proposed wind farm would get strong support if the developers promoted a partnership between themselves and the citizens. We would like to know that we are not only a critical component and beneficiary of the project, but also a director of its operation, with a role at the beginning, and if necessary, at the end. ... If the wind farm is to be located in the shelters of our waters, then we, the citizens, should be among its proponents, protectors, and trustees.
As I see it, user dependency on fossil fuels has been our Titanic, and our dependency on wind will be our tall ship."-
- "Gathering data on our oceans is a national priority and imperative. ... This platform will provide a facility for the monitoring of wind, ocean, and atmospheric data. ... This facility will provide a wealth of information that will provide a better understanding of Nantucket Sound and our offshore frontier in the oceans."-
- "I am the general counsel of the Competitive Power Coalition (CPC) of New England. The CPC is a trade organization comprised of all the power generators in New England. Currently, we represent 90 percent of all installed capacity in New England. ... And, I'm here tonight to say we strongly and enthusiastically support this project.
"The CPC was a leader in restructuring in Massachusetts. A key environmental component of that restructuring law was the renewable portfolio standard (RPS). ... The design of the RPS was to encourage the development of renewable resources within the Commonwealth so the citizens of Massachusetts could reap the economic and environmental benefits of renewable projects here. ... And as the drafters of the [RPS] bill said, Cape Wind is the poster child of what the RPS proposal was supposed to encourage."-
"I think it's entirely legitimate to ask people if we don't go this way, what do you propose to meet the 40 percent load growth over the next 20 years? An important part of this debate," says Duffy, "is that New England has had almost all of its new capacity in the last generation has been natural gas. ... Now, parties, including ISO New England, are raising concerns from both the reliability and price volatility sides that we are approaching the point where we have an over-dependency on one fuel-natural gas. ... And once you reach that point where you can no longer say we'll just keep building gas combined cycle units, then what is your answer? It really changes the debate. In the last 15 years, that has been the consistent answer. But, if we can't keep doing that for the another 20 years, as the ISO suggests, where do we go? If you look at what is commercially viable, I think the answer is wind. Not the exclusive solution, but part of the mix."
Another argument Cape Wind Associates makes for the project is that a wind farm of this size will certainly make a difference in the cost of power in New England. According to Duffy, "We're a unit that will have zero variable costs. We will be dispatched to the extent that we will be able to produce power. Basically, we'll be on all the time. ... Our power will be displacing whatever the marginal unit otherwise would have been in an economic dispatch scenario. We get two benefits from that. Number one is energy clearing price (ECP) suppression. In the New England market, whatever the marginal unit was, the last unit dispatched sets the clearing price for the whole pool. When we run, the unit that would have otherwise been the marginal unit is going to be displaced from the dispatch. Without us, if you had a unit on a given day at a $100 bid price as the marginal unit, once you introduce 400 MW of wind [energy] at the bottom of the bid stack because of our zero marginal cost, the ECP of the whole pool may drop to $75. So, it's safe to say that one of the public benefits we bring is a suppression on ECPs."
NIMBY, NIMBY, and NIMBY: A Familiar Cry
One of the major complaints from the residents of Cape Cod is that the wind farm is going to reduce the aesthetic value of the Cape to the tourists-which is the lifeblood of the economy there. People don't like the choice of Horseshoe Shoal for the project. They object to being able to see them from the beaches, to the navigational lights that will be positioned on the towers, and to what some people fear will be a lot of additional noise from the huge blades spinning in the wind. The complaints are very similar to those heard from opponents of nuclear power plant projects over the years. ()
"I would be willing to bet that almost nobody that is opposed to this project has actually never seen an offshore wind farm," says Olmsted. "I have, and I can tell you that these things are not industrial looking, they are extremely graceful and sleek. They're also pretty quiet. The noise isn't an issue. We could have this meeting ... In fact, I had a meeting on the deck of an offshore wind turbine in the middle of a 25-knot wind. And we could talk just like this. Can you hear the blades from that close? Sure you can, you'll hear a whooshing. That's all."
And what about those blades? Opponents claim they're so big, that you can't help but see them. Measuring 300-plus feet in length, won't you be able to see them for miles and miles, they ask? Not true, says Duffy. "When you actually see the visual impact of these [wind turbines], the blades, particularly when they're in motion, practically disappear from a distance. It's not the same as a stationary object," he says.
When asked why Horseshoe Shoal, Olmsted says, "One of the things we had to find was an appropriate wind regime. We looked for a place where there was appropriate wind along the shore. Horseshoe Shoal fit that description. Granted, farther offshore there are greater wind resources ... [but] Horseshoe Shoal, or Nantucket Sound, happens to be a particularly good resource. It also has reasonable water depths. We're looking for something less than 50 feet."
When it comes to the construction of wind turbines destined for offshore locales, current technology lends itself to shallower waters. Olmsted explains the constant pressure by waves on the embedded towers is such that smaller waves will mean a longer life for the towers themselves. "The deeper the water, the more pressure you'll have, and the more tension you'll have," he says.
Earth Day Announcement
Not all Northeasterners are against wind power.
In an effort to meet New York's growing demand for energy production, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) released a study on April 22-EarthDay- evaluating the potential for using offshore wind turbines to produce electricity for Long Island. The study shows that nearly 5,200 MW of electricity could be produced by offshore turbines placed three-to-six miles off the beaches of New York.
The plan names the most feasible area to construct the park as "a narrow band parallel to the entire south shore and to the east of Montauk Point. The band extends from three- ... to six-miles offshore and consists of water depths of between 50 ft. and 100 ft. Constituting over 314 square miles, this area could conceivably accept up to 5,200-MW of wind power capacity (using 1,733 wind turbines), which would yield the equivalent of 77 percent of Long Island's electricity needs."
Compare that to the wind project proposed off Nantucket Sound, and there are lots of similarities. However, the water depth is one variance. According to the report, "No wind turbines have yet been installed in such deep water, and it's probable that such a wind farm would not be economically viable in the foreseeable future. There are, however, 135 square miles of water area less than 50 feet deep ... These areas could accommodate 2,250-MW of wind power capacity (using 750 wind turbines)."
What do the Environmentalists Think?
According to LIPA, environmental groups are well behind the project. "Wind power is a win-win for Long Island," says Neal Lewis, executive director of the Long Island Neighborhood. "It is non-polluting ... Long Island environmental groups need to support this proposal and participate in a cooperative fashion in the review process." Sara J. Meyland, executive director and general counsel for the Counsel of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, agrees. "Making Long Island more energy self-sufficient by developing renewable, non-polluting energy capacity has been the dream of many environmentalists. ... Every effort to curb our reliance on fossil fuels helps the Long Island environment and global health. This announcement is an excellent way to celebrate Earth Day, and LIPA should be congratulated for taking the initiative to advance wind energy."
And the Birds?
Aren't there birds off the coast of Long Island? What about them? The study looked into the avian issue, and this is what it came up with. "Although avian impacts at wind power facilities have not been shown to be ecologically significant in general, virtually all of what is known about this subject comes from studies conducted for projects on land. ... A review of studies on avian mortality at more than 15 U.S. wind power facilities reveals relatively few fatalities overall, and no ecologically significant mortality rate at any site, with the possible exception ... [of] the Altamont Pass wind resource area of California."
However, much like on Cape Cod, marine and avian studies are planned before any construction begins. LIPA says that exhaustive research will be conducted in the months to come, including an impact study on the area where the turbines could be erected to see how construction would affect water foul, migratory birds, and marine life. In addition, a pre-proposal meeting for interested wind generation developers will be held on June 25 to gather information and begin the process of soliciting proposals for offshore turbine projects by the end of the year.
"Offshore wind generation for Long Island holds promise for the future," says LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel. "We're going to move forward with a more detailed evaluation of its potential so that we can develop some specific recommendations for the placement of wind generators off Long Island's south shore."
The transmission of the power generated by the turbines was also a concern in the siting process. Duffy said they had to "find a place that was close to an interconnect. The plan was to connect in Yarmouth, and then it's two miles in aboveground cabling to the Barnstable substation."
And what about complaints that the towers are nothing but an eyesore? Both Duffy and Olmsted don't see this as an issue. "There are probably very few days during the year that you'll be able to see that far," Olmsted says, "based on the atmospheric conditions. In addition, we intend to paint them gray so that they will blend into the background." ()
"We're not na‹ve about the visual issue," Duffy says. "We know it's a legitimate point, and I don't mean to dismiss it. But, it's one point that has to be balanced in part of an overall, much more broad societal decision as to what we're going to do to meet our future energy needs."
Olmsted elaborates by saying, "If you look at the entire Sound, you'd want to be out of the shipping channels, don't you think? Then there's a marine and bird habitat, a three-mile limit where you aren't allowed under Mass law to put power structures. So, now you can see it in your mind. Think about shallow water again. You're looking at a few small spaces. Considerably greater distances to get to shore, but no less sensitive than Horseshoe Shoal. This is the place," he says. (.)
What About the Birds?
Environmental opponents to the project question what will happen to the migratory birds who fly through Horseshoe Shoal on their way South, as well as the birds that are indigenous to the area. One example of a bad wind farm situation gone awry that is often sited by the opposition is Altamont Pass, California. "Everybody brings up the bird issue in the context of the Altamont Pass experience, which really in an anomaly of the whole industry," says Olmsted. "We are spending a great deal of time, effort, and resources on studying the birds out there. Most of the evidence that's already available is that birds see these things from a long way away, and tend to avoid them.
"The difference in Altamont was that they were put into a pass where the wind is sort of trapped at a higher velocity, and that's where birds like to go-with the wind, number one. Number two, those towers were the old lattice design towers, and they made tremendous perches. Raptors would sit there and look for their prey. They'd focus on their prey, and forget those things were spinning at a considerably greater rate than ours would be spinning. That was the main problem at Altamont.
"You don't really find that in evidence in any other area that I'm aware of, and certainly not any of the other wind parks we've looked at. One [wind park] that we've spent quite a bit of time looking at is off the coast of Sweden. It's an area ... that's in the flightway of many different species of birds that are identical to what we have on Horseshoe Shoal. They've got people out there 24/7 monitoring bird activity, and over the past year, they've got zero kills. Zero, not just a couple. Zero. So, I think there's a broad body of evidence that specifically offshore, the bird issue is not significant, and needs to be studied, but it's not a deal killer, or a fatal flaw."
And as far as the Cape Wind project is concerned, the company says they are committed to finding out all they can about the birds in the area before any major construction begins. "Beginning in May, we'll actually have a lift vessel out there to study the spring [bird] migration, and to that end, we'll have a very powerful radar that will be manned 100 percent of the time that will cover this area very thoroughly for the month of May," says Olmsted. "We're doing flyovers on a regular basis to tracking species and [the] activities of the birds.
"We absolutely believe that when the debate is really focused, the environmental community will be solidly on our side."
Do They Have to Be So Big?
One has to wonder if these turbines really have to stand 400-plus feet in the air? Couldn't the same impact be made on the energy situation in New England with turbines that were much smaller? Olmsted says no. "It's a matter of economy of scale. To get the effect we need and wanted, we looked at what was the most economic wind turbine to use. To get 420 MW delivered, do the math. Those have to be 1.5 MW turbines," he says.
Duffy agrees. "I wouldn't speak to anyone's motives. A lot of concern has been raised over depictions, such as the visual implications, that are not documented. If someone has a direct criticism about our methodology, then let's talk about it. But in any event, once the environmental study we've commissioned is released later this year, at least we won't be arguing over the methodology any longer," he says.
Another reason to make the wind park as large as it's proposed is due to immense start-up costs. "The biggest single cost in the development, or the construction, is the infrastructure to get the first megawatt to the substation in Barnstable. It's an immense cost. A platform has to be constructed, we have to get the electric gear out there, then install the cable underneath the Sound, do the shore work, and then the cabling back to the Yarmouth riser, and then cable back to Barnstable. That's the answer to 'Why so big?' in a nutshell," Olmsted says.
Change Isn't Easy
One might think that Nantucket and Cape Cod being Nantucket and Cape Cod, the opposition is purely of an inherent nature. Olmsted doesn't think so. "I recently did a presentation to the Nantucket Rotary. Afterwards, a fellow took me aside and asked about the opposition. He was an older gentleman. We talked a little bit about it, and he said, 'You know what the real problem is here?' He was talking about Nantucket specifically. 'It's change. It's different from what they have. I don't care if you tell these people it's for the better or for the worse, if it's different, they're going to be opposed.' I can accept that. And I understand that. People are generally resistant to change everywhere. And this project is a very simple place to focus that resistance. We have to find a way to deal with that," he said.
The Wind at His Back
Interview with Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates.
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:
- This project will contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment.
- 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.
- 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 of the great policy failures in the last 25 years was not significantly increasing our energy independence. We believe that renewable energy is a positive step to achieving that goal.
Here on Cape Cod, we have an awesome, inexhaustible supply of wind. People have always lamented how New England is at the end of the energy pipeline with no indigenous resources. That's simply not true. We have wind. Why not tap into that local solution and keep the dollars on Cape Cod instead of sending them to unstable regions in the Middle East?
Fortnightly: How much money will stay on Cape Cod?
JG: We are a local company and we plan on building with local companies. This is a $700 million dollar project, and that will be spent on construction jobs, operations jobs, maintenance jobs, and administration jobs. We're already pumping money into the community. We just signed a six-figure contract with a local consulting firm to do scientific studies. We are on the ground in Cape Cod, spending money. The project has the potential to be one of the largest construction jobs in Massachusetts at a time when the economy is weakening.
Fortnightly: How will this project affect Cape Cod environmentally?
JG: Cape Cod is at risk of global warming because it is low lying. Beaches are eroding due to rising sea levels, and the Cape has the most to lose. Burning fossil fuels is doing a number on the Cape. Mercury from oil plants is poisoning the fish. The Cape Wind project, however, will coexist with the natural environment. It will be located five miles from the nearest landfall and will peacefully coexist with the fishing and boating industries. I'm confident of that. Finally, I think [this project] will establish Cape Cod as a leader not only in renewable energy, but also in environmental protection.
If the question everyone is asking is, "At the end of the permitting process, will the regulators deem that this project is in the public's interest?" I believe the answer to that is yes. Why? Because the economic, environmental, and energy benefits are overwhelming versus the very minimal impact of this project.
Fortnightly: Obviously, you knew going into this that there would be opposition. Did you ever consider not doing it because of the vocal opposition?
JG: No, absolutely not. We passionately believe in this project. I'm an environmentalist, and this is the most environmentally safe, as well as the most exciting, energy project I've ever been involved with.
In my career, if I had stopped every time some vocal minority tried to shout down one of our projects, New England would be in the dark. Opposition comes with the territory. Many times we work to educate those groups, and very often, we have been able to show them that the projects do make sense. It's interesting, on all seven of my past energy projects, we'd go to public hearings and ask ourselves, "Where is the silent majority?" You see the vocal minority, but where are the supporters? This project is different, though. We've got the people there supporting us.
Fortnightly: If Horseshoe Shoal doesn't work out as the site for this massive project, do you have a secondary site picked out?
JG: We have done alternate site analyses. However, Horseshoe Shoal is a superior site, for many different reasons. It's a shallow, protected environment and it's in close proximity to a growing load center. I can honestly say that I believe Horseshoe Shoal is the best offshore wind site on the entire East Coast.
Fortnightly: With the downfall of Enron, have you had any second thoughts about this project? Have you approached it anymore cautiously?
JG: Not really. In a way, it goes to having your energy supply come from a local, experienced company. Enron was in Texas juggling all kinds of things. Why send money elsewhere when you can have renewable energy coming from a local company-where you can see it, touch it, taste it. With this project, there are no mirages.
Fortnightly: Is the opposition, in your mind, just another case of NIMBYism?
JG: From the beginning, we've been prepared to answer all questions about this project. I can honestly say that we believe there will be no adverse affect on Horseshoe Shoal because of the Cape Wind project. For those that will peer out from land and see these tiny turbines on the horizon, if that's the reason they oppose it, then I can't help them.
Every energy project has some environmental impact. This project has the fewest impacts.
[As far as the NIMBY argument] you can't go to a cocktail party and speak glowingly of renewable energy and at the same time, be against it because you'll be able to see it in action. If that's your argument, then yes, I think it's NIMBYism. However, I believe those folks are in the minority. Wind turbines inspire a lot of people. I believe this project is a testament of our commitment to work with the environment rather than against it.
Fortnightly: Final thoughts?
JG: By itself, the Cape Wind project will not solve all of our energy problems. We are not na‹ve about that fact. But, it will contribute significantly to positively addressing the issue. Most importantly, though, I think this project could be a national example that might inspire people to look much more closely at the positives of renewable energy. At least I hope it has that affect.
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