The advertisement by the P.O.I.N.T. (Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow) organization in the May 28 edition of the Gazette contained a series of arguments that I think need to be addressed one by one. Many of the individual points are accurate and we should not ignore them, but the general thrust of the ad is very misleading. It seems to argue that the best way to deal with our energy need is to get it from somewhere else. Our problem is that there is no “somewhere else.” We are surrounded by an abundant supply of renewable wind energy right here and we need to learn how to use it in a way that is compatible with our environment and our values. In other words, either we use it well or we shouldn’t use it at all but don’t count on others to supply it for us.
Below are the bullet points in the order they appear in the ad; my response follows.
• The Island’s waters are a public trust to be held for the benefit of all the people of the commonwealth. Developers will reap huge profits from their private use of this public property.
This is a serious concern and we should work to insure that those profits are capped and the benefits of these projects go to the people of this region.
• The wind projects get government subsidies.
That’s correct, but not nearly as much as their competition, the coal, gas and oil industries. We need only to look at the Gulf of Mexico today or to the strip-mining and mountaintop removal in Appalachia to see where the real subsidies (and real damages) are. We should work to get those subsidies removed and the real costs of that energy included, so we can put an accurate price on those technologies. And while we’re at it, we might want to include our recent trillion dollar wars as part of that equation.
• More wind power does not mean less oil consumption.
That’s because we don’t have a serious conservation policy in this country. Today we waste more energy than we use — and that’s not counting the potential for new and more efficient technologies. Energy conservation should be the first and most important energy policy we have and it needs to apply to all forms and uses of energy; otherwise we are simply throwing good energy after bad, no matter where it comes from.
• New natural gas discoveries and new technologies have increased reserves and lowered its cost.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel and a finite resource, and unlike renewable resources, increasing the demand for it will raise its cost, speed up its consumption and contribute to global warming. Moreover, to extract these gas “discoveries” we will need to fracture the shale formations of large areas of the eastern United States. This is done by injecting a combination of steam and toxic chemicals into them, a process that could poison the aquifers of major cities in the region. New York has already objected to any drilling in the Catskills for just this reason. In other words, beware of promises made by the oil and gas industries.
If we are to use this resource at all, we should use it to reduce our reliance on coal and try to save what’s left of Kentucky and West Virginia.
• Fish and wildlife studies have not been done.
This is true and those studies should be completed before any of these wind farms are built. We should not be threatening whole species just to get more energy. We could all live very comfortably and happily with a lot less stuff (see conservation comments above).
• The site is significant to the Wampanoag tribes.
Yes, and it should be significant to all of us. We need to consider these projects within the larger context of the beauty and impact on the environment that these machines may have. Land, views, wildlife, peace and quiet, all have equal claim on our resources. At the end of the day, we will have to either cut back or compromise but we’re not going to solve this problem by pushing it off onto others.
• Intermittent wind power requires conventional backup.
We already have plenty of conventional power that could be used for backup. What we need to do is begin the transition to renewables. This region gets a significant supply of hydro power from Canada which is both steady and renewable and may ultimately be our primary source of backup energy.
• Offshore wind development is two or three times more costly than onshore development.
Land-based wind development in this densely developed region has proved to be very problematic and the large scale potential for land-based wind energy is very limited.
• Wind energy from other states is available at far less cost.
Those states need renewable energy too. They are not energy independent today and won’t be for a long time. Buying energy from somewhere else is not going to solve our energy problem here.
Henry Stephenson is cochairman of the Tisbury planning board.