The federal government has finally approved a 130-turbine wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, dubbed Cape Wind, that has been in the works for nearly a decade. Renewable energy proponents are celebrating the U.S.’s decision to catch up with the rest of the world in offshore wind, but, as expected, the announcement has spurred all kinds of controversy.
The development would span 24 square miles — the same size as Manhattan, as the New York Times points out — with no turbines closer than five miles off the coast. It’s a massive undertaking that would take years to realize — if it can hack through the remaining red tape, which isn’t insignificant.
Usually environmental issues split along party lines. Just look at the Climate Bill, which has been inching ahead little by little since last fall. The bulk of its supporters are Democrats, while almost all Republicans are against it. But Cape Wind isn’t such a clear cut case. Before his death last year, Senator Ted Kennedy spoke out against the wind farm, arguing that it would funnel government money into corporate coffers.
All told, the project is expected to cost $1 billion and generate enough power to meet 75 percent of the energy demand for the Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket region. But that doesn’t count the $10 billion in grid and transmission line upgrades that will need to take place to make the wind power usable, those against the project say. This would put an undue financial yolk on Massachusetts’ shoulders.
Those in support of the project have turned these financial assumptions into a positive, arguing that the development would create hundreds of new manufacturing and construction jobs, fulfilling President Obama’s promise to create a vibrant green-collar economy.
But those looking to block progress on Cape Wind have an answer to this as well. If they can’t appeal to government officials on the basis of cost, they will try to win the hearts and minds of local consumers, arguing that electricity rates are likely to jump when wind power is integrated into the grid. People tend to care more about how much they are paying for power than where it is coming from. If enough of them fear rate hikes, they could throw up major roadblocks.
Already some groups are mobilizing to get court orders to stop Cape Wind in its tracks. On top of that, the project will need to find utility partners to purchase the energy it generates in order to move forward, and it still needs to get vital safety and environmental permits. Those working against the project are sure to make each one of these steps as difficult as possible.