Cape Wind’s Point-by-Point Response to RFK, Jr.’s Op Ed in the New York Times, December 16, 2005
(Note: Extracts of RFK Jr.’s Op Ed appear in italics, Cape Wind’s responses appear right below in normal text.)
As an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound...
Author and environmentalist Charles Komanoff considered this objection by RKF Jr. to Cape Wind when he wrote:
“If anyone should understand the need to maximize the energy output from wind turbines, it is environmentalists -- particularly those who live or summer on Cape Cod. In the coming decades, Cape beaches will be inundated and Cape dunes and structures battered by rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms, wrought by global warming. And, sure as daylight, continued reliance on oil will not only contaminate the environment but also fuel the cycle of war and terrorism.”
“Yet somehow [some] environmental groups and high-profile individuals such as [Robert F.] Kennedy [Jr.] can't connect the dots. They decry the April breakup of a barge carrying bunker oil to a Cape electricity-generating plant that has shut a prized shellfishing area and many beaches. But they can't see that stopping Cape Wind will subject Buzzards Bay to such oil shipments for decades. Nor does it seem to matter to them that other precious -- albeit less prosperous -- places, from West Virginia mountaintops to Wyoming sandhills, are sacrificed daily to yield the very fuels that the wind farm would displace.”“If obstructionists such as Kennedy and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound have their way, wind power may never amount to more than a "niche" energy source. What is at present our most promising large-scale energy alternative -- and certainly the most alluring -- could be strangled in its cradle as the NIMBY precedent takes hold nationwide.”
“History's great movements have all been universal, not selective. Abolitionists fought to free all slaves, not some. Labor sought to organize all workers, not just the most skilled. Environmentalists from John Muir to Rachel Carson campaigned to save nature everywhere -- not just in a few "unique" areas.”
“It remains to be seen whether latter-day environmentalism will rouse itself to protect the whole earth -- or degenerate into a protection scheme for the pretty views of well-to-do landowners.”
Environmental groups have been enticed by Cape Wind, but they should be wary of lending support to energy companies that are trying to privatize the commons
There is a long history in the United States of commercial activities being permitted on public lands when they are found to serve the public interest. In the case of clean, renewable energy, State and Federal policies clearly recognize the public interest benefits of cleaner air, job creation, greater electric price stability and reduced dependence on imported energy. It has also been noted by the US Department of Energy that because New England is so heavily dependent on natural gas for electric generation that the region is at risk of escalating prices and even winter rolling blackouts due to fuel shortages and that Cape Wind would provide regional electric reliability benefits.
Click here to read more about the Department of Energy study of how Cape Wind could help regional electric reliability.
Click here to read a U.S. Department of Energy Study on how Cape Wind would improve electric reliability (19-page PDF).
Ultimately, Cape Wind will only receive its permits if government agencies determine the project is consistent with the public interest. Opponents of Cape Wind have consistently favored moves to prevent the permitting process from moving forward and to prevent the public interest determination of the project from ever being made.
in this case 24 square miles of a heavily used waterway
Nantucket Sound is over 500 square miles in size. While it is true that the Horseshoe Shoal area where the wind turbines would be located is 24 square miles, the wind turbines themselves would occupy less than one tenth of one percent of that shoal area. There would be 6 to 9 football fields of separation between the wind turbines to allow considerable room to navigate for the shallow draft vessels that go onto the shallow shoal. This scaled diagram pictures a 45-foot sailboat in the middle of four Cape Wind turbines to visually depict the room to navigate on the shoal after the wind turbines are constructed (click on image to enlarge).
And because offshore wind costs twice as much as gas-fired electricity and significantly more than onshore wind
Comparing construction costs of energy facilities while ignoring fuel / operational costs does not provide much useful insight. Fossil fuel prices have skyrocketed in recent years driving up electricity prices. Residents of Cape Cod just received the news that their electricity prices are going up by 81% next month due to escalating prices of natural gas and oil. Wind is forever free, clean, and inexhaustible. Cape Wind will offer a fixed-price electricity contract for 10-15 years that will provide customers with considerable savings and long-term electric price stability. The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board also found that Cape Wind would reduce energy costs in the region by 25 million dollars per year.
the project is financially feasible only because the federal and state governments have promised $241 million in subsidies
There is no promise to Cape Wind, from any government entity, of any dollar amount of subsidies. In addition to obtaining government permits, Cape Wind will also need to raise all of the capital to build the project from private sources. Martha’s Vineyard resident Theodore Roosevelt IV is leading the effort by Lehman Brothers to secure Cape Wind’s financing.
Ironically, RFK Jr. has been among the voices highly critical of U.S. energy policies that provide significantly greater government financial support to the established fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries than to clean renewable energy. One analysis found that for every dollar the US Government spends to encourage renewable energy development, it spends ten on fossil fuel and nuclear.
The Federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy, which reduces the tax burden of wind projects based on their actual production of wind energy, would need to be further extended by Congress to even apply to the Cape Wind project. The Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard program, that provides an additional revenue source to renewable energy projects in the form of Renewable Energy Credits, will cost electricity consumers less the greater the increment of renewable energy that is actually built in the region.
Cape Wind's proposal involves construction of 130 giant turbines whose windmill arms will reach 417 feet above the water and be visible for up to 26 miles
In clear conditions, from a distance of 6 miles at the shoreline of Hyannis Port, the wind turbines will appear one half inch high on the horizon if you were to extend your arm straight in front of you and separated your thumb and index finger. From the Town of Nantucket, at 13.8 miles, the wind turbines would appear as tiny specks on the horizon in clear conditions.
… lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views
Though navigation safety lights will be visible from shore at night, they will not appear bright and they will not appreciably affect the visibility of stars overhead.
The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore
The operation of the wind turbines six miles offshore will never be audible from shore. Visitors to existing offshore wind turbines in Europe consistently report that the wind turbines are difficult to even hear up close, from a nearby boat. Wind turbine noise has been substantially reduced with improvements in the technology over the years and the background sounds offshore of wind and surf are also considerable.
A transformer substation rising 100 feet above the sound would house giant helicopter pads and 40,000 gallons of potentially hazardous oil
The reference here is to highly refined mineral oil that will be far more secure than the millions of gallons of fuel oils that traverse Nantucket Sound every year. The mineral oil will be stored in a triple-containment system to protect against any spills.
In addition, Cape Wind will reduce the amount of fossil fuels, including oil that is burned in New England to make electricity. Each year Cape Wind will generate as much electricity as it would take an oil burning power plant burning 113 million gallons of oil to produce. Cape Wind has earned the support of the highly-respected Coalition For Buzzards Bay in part due to their analysis that Cape Wind would reduce the risk of oil spills like the 100,000 gallons of oil spilled into Buzzards Bay in 2003 that was en route to an oil burning power plant located onshore the Cape Cod Canal. That spill resulted in the deaths of over 450 seabirds, befouled beaches and closed shellfish beds for over a year.
According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the project will damage the views from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands
Although the Massachusetts Historical Commission did find that the project would have an “adverse effect” on the views of some historic sites including the Kennedy Compound (that incidentally has no public access), the methodology they used to reach that determination was whether the new view would be consistent with the historic view. As there have never before been offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, it was fairly certain they would reach this particular determination.
Wind power is hardly a new concept for Cape Cod and the Islands, however. In the late 1700s and early 1800s there were up to a thousand working windmills on Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The windmills were helping make salt, pump water and grind grain – the wind powered the local economy. The remaining windmills are treasured tourist attractions and are an icon of the cultural history of Cape Cod and the Islands.
The Humane Society estimates the whirling turbines could every year kill thousands of migrating songbirds and sea ducks
Extensive studies of operational offshore wind farms in Europe in areas with lots of birds have found very few bird collisions, most birds are found to avoid the wind farms and those that fly through tend to travel down the open corridors between turbine rows.
Click here to read a BBC article that describes a recent study from Denmark.
Click here to read a comprehensive fact sheet from the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS.org.
It is important to also consider that conventional energy uses pose very high risk to birds from oil spills to habit loss caused by energy extraction and acid rain, from mercury contamination and from arguably the biggest threat – global warming.
The Humane Society calculations ignored the studied experience of offshore wind farms in Europe and their work has been financed, in part, by the opposition group that formed to stop the Cape Wind project.
Nantucket Sound is among the most densely traveled boating corridors in the Atlantic. The turbines will be perilously close to the main navigation channels for cargo ships, ferries and fishing boats. The risk of collisions with the towers would increase during the fogs and storms for which the area is famous
Horseshoe Shoal, due to its shallow depths of just 2 feet in certain areas, experiences much less boat traffic than deeper areas of Nantucket Sound and is outside of boating channels. Several current and former Nantucket Sound ferry boat Captains have stated for the record that wind turbines on this shoal would have no impact on navigation safety in Nantucket Sound and some of them have also stated the wind turbines would provide an aid to navigation in helping to show boaters with less local experience where the shallow areas are. Nantucket Sound also experiences substantially less shipping than the waterways on either side of it. In Denmark, there are two offshore wind farms near major international shipping channels that have not posed any navigation problems.
Thousands of small businesses, including marina owners, hotels, motels, whale watching tours and charter fishing operations will also be hurt. The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston estimates a loss of up to 2,533 jobs because of the loss of tourism - and over a billion dollars to the local economy
There is not a single example, anywhere in the world, of a wind farm harming local tourism on land or offshore. There are many documented examples of wind farms increasing local tourism. There are wind farms offshore Denmark’s two largest tourism destinations of Copenhagen, where the wind turbines can be seen in the distance above the shoulder of the Little Mermaid, and Denmark’s premiere beach destination of Blavaandshuk has an offshore wind farm where tourism has increased.
The BHI Study was paid for by wind farm opponents and was based on the selective use of a survey they used of tourists on Cape Cod. One finding not touted from this survey by BHI or by the study’s funders was that “on balance, tourists favor the windmills”. The ‘damage’ to the tourist economy claimed by BHI was a result of the 3% who reported not liking the visual simulations they were shown while the study made no effort to study what new tourists would be drawn to the area to see the offshore wind farm, an effect noted at other offshore wind locations.
Nantucket Sound is a critical fishing ground for the commercial fishing families of Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod. Hundreds of fishermen work Horseshoe Shoal, where the Cape Wind project would be built, and make half their annual income from the catch. The risks that their gear will become fouled in the spider web of cables between the 130 towers will largely preclude fishing in the area, destroying family-owned businesses that enrich the palate, economy and culture of Cape Cod
The largest union of commercial fishermen, the International Seafarers Union, supports Cape Wind. Most of Horseshoe Shoal is too shallow for commercial fishing. The cables will be buried specifically to avoid interaction with fishing gear or anchors. The wind turbines will be separated 6 to 9 football fields apart to allow for navigation and fishing and there is a documented effect in Europe of offshore wind farms acting as artificial reefs that increase the amount of sea life in the area, as shown on this underwater wind turbine foundation offshore Denmark.
There are those who argue that unlike our great Western national parks, Cape Cod is far from pristine, and that Cape Wind's turbines won't be a significant blot. I invite these critics to see the pods of humpback, minke, pilot, finback and right whales off Nantucket, to marvel at the thousands of harbor and gray seals lolling on the bars off Monomoy and Horseshoe Shoal, to chase the dark clouds of terns and shorebirds descending over the thick menhaden schools exploding over acre-sized feeding frenzies of striped bass, bluefish and bonita
Several of these references are not to Horseshoe Shoal, where the wind turbines would be located. European studies have found that the operations of offshore wind farms do not harm seals.
I urge them to come diving on some of the hundreds of historic wrecks in this "graveyard of the Atlantic," and to visit the endless dune-covered beaches of Cape Cod, our fishing villages immersed in history and beauty, or to spend an afternoon netting blue crabs or mucking clams, quahogs and scallops by the bushel on tidal mud flats - some of the reasons my uncle, John F. Kennedy, authorized the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961, and why Nantucket Sound is under consideration as a national marine sanctuary, a designation that would prohibit commercial electrical generation.
Cape Wind opponents consistently repeat this claim that Nantucket Sound “is under consideration” as a national marine sanctuary. In fact, it has been documented by Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management records that this application of the early 1980’s was shelved by federal officials because the central areas of the Sound (including Horseshoe Shoal) lacked the criteria necessary to obtain this designation.
For another view of comparing the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore to Cape Wind, consider that of Cape Cod resident, author and poet, Annie Dillard who wrote, in a letter to the Boston Globe:
“WE HOWLED and kicked when the National Seashore proposed to take -- usurp -- private property below market price. Everyone here (except one powerful Kennedy) opposed it. We were wrong.”
“Wind farms are beautiful. Silently they witness the winds. Their motion adds value and beauty, as sailboats and kites do. Their fixed bases bespeak fidelity and acceptance, as windmills do. If you have the boat for it, such as a Dovekie, you could still navigate shoals, if you want to.”
“Senator Edward Kennedy surprises by yielding to his friends' fears instead of supporting what is right and good, as the seashore's takings were both right and good. Sure, it's for profit. What utility isn't?”
“I'm old, too. But I know a good new thing when I see one. I've seen one wind farm, again and again, and could barely tear my eyes away.”
All of us need periodically to experience wilderness to renew our spirits and reconnect ourselves to the common history of our nation, humanity and to God. The worst trap that environmentalists can fall into is the conviction that the only wilderness worth preserving is in the Rocky Mountains or Alaska. To the contrary, our most important wildernesses are those that are closest to our densest population centers, like Nantucket Sound.
Dense population centers are also the areas of highest electricity demand. Local, clean and natural energy can meet an increasing share of this demand from sources like offshore wind.
There are many alternatives that would achieve the same benefits as Cape Wind without destroying this national treasure. Deep water technology is rapidly evolving, promising huge bounties of wind energy with fewer environmental and economic consequences. Scotland is preparing to build wind turbines in the Moray Firth more than 12 miles offshore. Germany is considering placing turbines as far as 27 miles off its northern shores
The Moray Firth project is a heavily subsidized demonstration project that will power existing offshore oil rigs - the electricity will not be cabled to shore. The developers of the project think commercial applications of their research and development are 10 to 15 years away.
The US Department of Energy also estimates that deepwater offshore wind farms, further from shore, are 10-15 years away and they acknowledge the important and beneficial role that shallow water projects closer to shore, can play now to help usher in this important energy supply.
David K. Garman, Under Secretary of Energy, wrote in March, 2005:
“As the first shallow water offshore project under review in the United States, utility-scale projects like Cape Wind are important to our national interest and a critical first step to building a domestic, globally competitive wind industry. Success in this project could also lay the foundation for a focused national investment to develop offshore wind technology in the coming years.”
“The Department has a strong interest in exploring our homeland energy resources to ensure that we continue to meet our Nation’s growing need for affordable and reliable energy. With over 900 gigawatts of potential wind power located in offshore areas adjacent to major demand load centers, we must work together to tap this resource in a responsible manner.”
“…If even a small percentage of this potential is developed, it will help alleviate a variety of energy issues facing our National, including increasing electricity demand, congestion on regional electricity grids and concerns over air emissions from traditional power generation. It will also stimulate new sources of revenue, jobs and investment for jurisdictions adjacent to offshore installations. Developing power from our abundant offshore wind resources would help stabilize electricity prices for customers and generators, preserve and extend our Nation’s critical natural gas supplies, and provide a potential source of hydrogen in the future.”
“Projects like Cape Wind are responsive to the Administration’s policy to increase renewable energy development on Federal lands and to reduce air emissions in collaboration with the private sector. We commend the vision, leadership, and action by all parties to this project and their efforts to move our nation towards a sustainable energy future.”
If Cape Wind were to place its project further offshore, it could build not just 130, but thousands of windmills - where they can make a real difference in the battle against global warming
Cape Wind will make a meaningful contribution to the efforts in the region to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that cause global warming. The Natural Resources Defense Council has noted that Cape Wind “is, to our knowledge, the largest single source of supply-side reductions in CO2 currently proposed in the United States, and perhaps in the world”. Cape Wind will also help to usher in technology that will allow for deeper water wind turbine installations, in higher wave environments to make possible the thousands of offshore wind turbines RFK Jr. envisions to be built sooner, rather than later.