Locating Cape Wind on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, offshore Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, makes sense considering both the history and the present challenges facing this special place. Reconnecting to its rich history of harnessing wind power on a large scale will enable residents of the Cape and Islands to benefit from a new source of jobs and it will have them be regarded by visitors from around the world as leaders in confronting climate change which so threatens their vulnerable coastlines.
- Rich History of Wind Power & Energy
- New Jobs & Economic Opportunities
- Climate Change & Environmental Challenges
It was by harnessing wind power that European explorers and settlers came to America. Before sailing to Plymouth Harbor, the Mayflower first reached land in the ‘New World’ at the tip of Cape Cod in what is now Provincetown. The Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, and the European settlers who followed them for the next two centuries, all harnessed offshore wind to power their sailboats across the Atlantic Ocean.
Settlers on Cape Cod noticed what people still notice today, that it is a very windy place. The settlers were familiar with windmill technology as it had already been used in Europe for centuries, and they began building windmills on Cape Cod and the Islands.
The early windmills were often used for grinding grain or pumping drinking water up from wells. It would take a war for Cape Codders to discover the most valuable use for their windmills. When some colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony sparked the American Revolutionary war, the British cut off the supply of salt, which had a devastating impact on the ability of residents to preserve fish or meat. Local residents resorted to boiling seawater to yield a small amount of salt, a process that was very time consuming and expensive. It was Harwich resident Nathaniel Freeman who had the idea to use a windmill to pump saltwater (from Nantucket Sound) onto evaporation pans to allow for much more substantial yields of salt after the water evaporated. Thus, a salt boom was born.
From the late 1700s through the mid-1800s, Cape Cod and the Islands was one of the most significant salt producing and salt exporting regions of the country, all thanks to the power of wind. Saltmills lined the coastline, particularly of Nantucket Sound. At the height of the industry there were over 1,200 saltmills on Cape Cod.
At the same time that the wind-powered salt business was booming on Cape Cod, and wind-powered ‘packet ships’ were delivering the salt cargo all over the country, great wealth was also being amassed on Nantucket and several Cape Cod towns due to the booming energy trade of that era: whale oil. It was sailing ships from Nantucket, Cape Cod, New Bedford, and other ports in the region that delivered the oil that lit lamps around the world and helped grease the wheels of the industrial revolution. Of course, whale oil was an unsustainable energy industry.
With the advent of the fossil fuel energy era, the salt and whale oil industries on the Cape and Islands went away, but they remain a rich part of the fabric of the cultural history of the area. Tourists visit the remaining windmills that also grace the pages of visitor guides, and there are many replica windmills, some incorporated into storefronts. The windmill insignia can be seen on store sign designs, on Entering Town road signs, and nearly every community on Cape Cod has a street named Windmill Point.
Nantucket has a famous whaling museum recalling the days that local ship captains, crews, and merchants were supplying energy around the world.
Cape Wind’s offshore wind turbines will look rather different than their forerunners, but they have something important in common. They both tap a local and sustainable energy resource abundant on the Cape and Islands to produce something of great importance that nearly everyone needs. In a modern and sustainable way, Cape Wind will return the area to its role of being a significant energy producer.
New Jobs & Economic Opportunities
Bourne resident and college student Susannah parsons wrote an Op Ed that was published in the Cape Cod Times in support of Cape Wind, in which she describes a disturbing trend, younger people leaving the Cape and not returning due to the lower wages of a mostly service-sector economy:
“Census data show a Cape-wide population decrease over the past 10 years, but most alarming are school-age losses of 18 percent across the board. I know this well: Many of my peers have graduated from high school and left the Cape. Too many don't return to pursue careers and build families and lives back home. We need to diversify the economy of Cape Cod in general, and add more higher-paying jobs in particular, if we want to have more young people choose to stay here and raise their families here. Clean energy is one such industry we can build on the Cape and Islands and where we can have a competitive advantage due to our location and vast clean energy resources, particularly offshore.”
Cape Wind will be the first of many offshore wind farms in the United States. The scientific institutions in Woods Hole in Falmouth are already on a world stage of excellence for marine science. Now Cape Cod will also be regarded as a leader in offshore clean energy. Just a few miles from Woods Hole, Cape Wind’s operations Headquarters will be based on Falmouth harbor, creating 50 local permanent jobs.
Cape Wind will be a major new destination point for residents and the many visitors who come to the Cape and Islands. Hy-Line Cruises in Hyannis is working with Cape Wind to be the official Cape Wind eco-tour provider and will create additional jobs. Hy-Line Cruises plans to acquire a vessel for this purpose and to eventually build a Cape Wind visitors center on their property in Hyannis, and they will be working with the Cape Cod Community College to provide the training these students will need to qualify for the eco-tour jobs.
Cape Wind has also been promoting workforce development initiatives to help train students to work in renewable energy careers. Cape Wind donated $100,000 to the Cape Cod Community College for a program that supports their renewable energy coursework and that of local technical high schools and of the Mass Maritime Academy located on the bank of the Cape Cod Canal.
“We should embrace and celebrate these high-paying jobs destined for skilled trade workers, technicians, scientists, and engineers. They will encourage more young
people to stay on the Cape, raise their
families here, and help build our future with
a more demographically balanced population.
These jobs will breathe vitality into our economy.” -- Op Ed in favor of Cape Wind published in the Cape Cod Times on February, 15, 2011, by Admiral Richard Gurnon, President of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Kathleen Schatzberg, President of Cape Cod Community College.
One of the most serious challenges facing Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket is climate change. The stakes are high regarding how quickly greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, as this region has some of the most vulnerable shorelines in the northeast United States.
Created by sand, clay, and rocks pulled into the Atlantic Ocean by a retreating glacier at the end of the last ice age, Cape Cod and the Islands have no underlying bedrock and are low lying and largely unprotected from rising sea levels and the effects of more frequent severe storms. Erosion is expected to get much worse in the years and decades to come as a result of climate change. As Cape Wind supporter and climate change expert Bill McKibben pointed out, a one-foot rise in sea levels can mean losing 90 feet of a Cape Cod beach, and projections for area sea level rise in the decades to come are considerably higher than that.
In part because climate change has enhanced the risk of insuring properties near the Cape and Islands' coastlines, most private property insurers no longer offer policies there. Homeowners on the Cape and Islands are having increasing difficulty obtaining property insurance policies and have seen their policies cancelled. These homeowners are having instead to obtain coverage from a program sponsored by the State of Massachusetts and subsidized by residents across the commonwealth.
Local scientists are pointing out that warming ocean waters also threaten the suitability of local waters for cod, the once abundant fish that gave Cape Cod its name. The changing climate also threatens the delicate balance that make the area a suitable habitat for native plants and fruits, such as cranberries.
Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants are all making the oceans more acidic which compromises the ability of shellfish to make healty shells. Ocean acidification threatens shellfish and shellfish fisheries across the globe, including on the Cape and Islands.
Of course, one pioneering offshore wind farm does not reverse a global climate phenomenon on its own, but climate scientists including many on Cape Cod in Woods Hole have consistently called for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet our energy needs, both here and all over the world.
For the Cape and Islands, being home to Cape Wind represents a big step in the right direction. Cape Wind will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by over 734,000 tons, which is like taking 175,000 cars off the road each year. Cape Wind will also kickstart the American offshore wind industry, which has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions for many coastal states. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Delaware have calculated that there are enough offshore wind resources from Cape Cod to North Carolina to eventually supply most of the energy needs of those states.
Visitors who come from all over the world to enjoy the beaches and boating of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, will also begin to view the region as a place where people have recognized the threat of climate change and have taken a stewardship role to mitigate its negative effects.
“[Cape Wind] is an excellent example of what can be done now in making the transition from non-renewable to renewable energy production without significant further environmental costs. It will stand as a model of progress by the United States...[Cape Wind has] the potential to provide 75 percent of the Cape’s annual electricity needs, power that will support the 21st century economies of Cape Cod: tourism recreation, retail and commercial business, education, and scientific research.” -- Woods Hole Research Center
The American Lung Association and other health organizations warn that air quality on the Cape and Islands is sometimes unhealthy and can make people sick, largely as a result of polluting energy sources.
“Initiatives like Cape Wind are critical to improving air quality in New England and provide a model for the nation.” -- Jeff Seyler, CEO, American Lung Association New England Chapter
Conventional sources of energy are negatively affecting water quality on the Cape and Islands, negative effects that Cape Wind avoids.
‘Atmospheric deposition’ of pollutants coming from power plant smokestacks rain down on the sensitive water bodies on and around the Cape and Islands. This contributes to a buildup of mercury in fish. ‘Nitrogen loading’ is a major problem for water quality for many towns on Cape Cod and after the effects from septic systems and lawn chemicals, atmospheric deposition (from burning fossil fuels) is the next largest source of nitrogen going into Cape waterways.
Cape Codders were reminded of the threats fossil fuel energy sources pose to their water bodies in 2003 when nearly 100,000 gallons of heavy oil spilled into Buzzards Bay, despoiling beaches and shellfish beds alike—oil intended for delivery to a nearby power plant.
There will never be a dangerous ‘wind spill.’
Cape Wind will produce most of the electricity used on the Cape and Islands cleanly and will result in reduced regional power plant pollution that negatively affects air and water quality. Cape Wind will not consume any water; nuclear and fossil fuel power plants (like the oil burning power plant on Cape Cod) use tremendous amounts of water, and many of these facilities also discharge heated water back into waterways that can be harmful to temperature-sensitive marine animals.
Cape Wind will also not generate any waste. Waste management from all sources is an important issue on Cape Cod because it has a sole source aquifer for drinking water.