Recently I attended the Minerals Management Service public hearing held on Martha’s Vineyard where I reiterated some of the reasons why I continue to give my full-fledged support to Cape Wind’s plan to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. During the nearly five-hour hearing I listened to what other people had to say; one of them was Dean Bragonier, a Vineyard resident who works for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Dean expressed his take on the hearing we both attended and I thought I would present mine since they differ by such a wide margin.
Perhaps the most glaringly flawed conclusion Mr. Bragonier expressed in last week’s Gazette has to do with percentages of people who spoke out against Cape Wind. The alliance has even gone to the extent of taking out large print ads in several newspapers giving a sort of pro versus con scorecard in order to show how poorly Cape Wind fared in the court of public opinion. Unfortunately they both conveniently forgot to mention that several people who spoke against Cape Wind, particularly at the Nantucket and Boston hearings, were actually employed by the alliance and spoke not at one or even two hearings but at all four of the hearings which were held. This sort of high jinx is colloquially known as either cooking the books, or if you’re a card player, stacking the deck.
Mr. Bragonier cites these artificially boosted statistics as proof that the opposition to Cape Wind is stronger than ever and that most showed overwhelming support for protecting Nantucket Sound from industrial development.
As a general rule I tend to ignore comments made by lobbyists and paid spokesmen who are nothing more than guns for hire, but I know Dean personally and although we also both share a deep concern for the environment we now find ourselves on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to Cape Wind.
Dean cites impacts on the local economy, public safety and threats to the environment among his primary reasons for his so-called race to save the shoal. I share his concerns but have come to very different conclusions after studying the facts.
Many speakers at the hearing weighed in against the proposed wind farm because of concerns they had with noise, disturbance to marine life by EMF emissions from the transmission cables, aviation, marine and radar interference, bird morbidity and so on. It was highly noteworthy (at least to me) how few of the people who spoke raised issues as concerns or questions versus the number of people who presented their comments as conclusions or assertions.
At one point Dean puts forth the claim that Cape Wind’s electricity could cost up to three times the current wholesale price for electricity, although how this was determined is anyone’s guess. Since Cape Wind was first proposed the price of crude oil has more than tripled. Do any of us know where oil prices and resulting electric rates will be in five years? At least the cost of wind will never change.
Like nearly all the opponents to Cape Wind, Dean Bragonier allows that he is a strong supporter of wind power, just not in Nantucket Sound. He points to the curiously timed announcement by a Dutch company called Blue H to build a wind farm in deep water far from view as evidence of his eagerness to see utility-scale wind power brought to our region. Since there are no deep water wind farms currently bringing electricity to domestic consumers anywhere in the world, I am not sure how Blue H will bring us anything but media spin in the foreseeable future. In fact, the Minerals Management Service recently declined their application to erect a data tower to study the area.
How long should we wait, how many more rainbows do we need to chase before we get serious about addressing the problems that loom before us right now?
While many people continue to allege that the ecosystem will be decimated, what they really mean is that the wind farm will affect their ability to derive an income from it (in the case of mobile gear fishermen) or alter their view or even challenge their belief that our environment is still pristine. There is a big difference.
A program recently aired on our local public radio station detailed the total collapse of codfish stocks in our inshore waters. During the last few decades an estimated loss of 90 per cent of the cod population was attributed to overfishing and the use of more technological means of locating and harvesting fish. Pristine environment? Hardly.
Because so much of our nation’s electrical energy is derived from burning coal and oil the environment is being altered every day. Large swaths of coal producing areas in our country are being transformed into something akin to a lunar landscape devoid of life. Entire mountains are being devoured, rivers polluted and communities decimated so that we can cling to the illusion of having cheap power and a pristine environment when neither are true anymore. Meanwhile the effects on our immediate environment and public health are staggering. Elevated mercury levels in several species of saltwater fish such as swordfish, mako and tuna are listed as posing a threat to human health. In fact, pregnant women are now advised against eating these foods due to the level of mercury, a heavy metal that finds its way into the food chain primarily as a result of burning coal and oil for electrical power generation. As far as freshwater pond fish are concerned, don’t even think of frying up your catch anymore — their mercury levels are already nearly off the charts.
If you are still determined to believe Nantucket Sound is pristine you’ll have to ignore the fact that a deadly toxin is steadily accumulating in the ecosystem.
I have personally seen dairy cows grazing pasture land at the base of towers supporting wind turbines. It is an interesting image because to a large extent it represents what a sustainable future might look like. It is indeed compelling. It demonstrates how future power generating techniques don’t have to by their very nature wreak havoc on the surrounding environment. Not only can the two seemingly opposite activities, agriculture and industry, exist side by side, they can be engaged in a symbiotic relationship. It is an altogether new paradigm which may in part explain why some people have such a difficult time believing in it.
Can offshore wind power gain a similar status? Can we actually increase the viability and sustainability of a particular ecosystem while harvesting clean energy? Recent experience and improved technology has shown that we can.
Since virtually all the electricity we consume today is manufactured by private companies (somehow less greedy than Cape Wind in the eyes of the anti-wind folks) and all forms of power generation including coal, oil and nuclear power plants receive government tax credits, I am left to wonder if the anti-wind lobby really is just Nimbyism after all.
Dean Bragonier and I both went to the same hearing, both care deeply about the environment and yet each of us reached a different conclusion.
For me Cape Wind and the sight of wind turbines in general represent a future that I believe in and wholeheartedly embrace. Even after weighing the potential impacts across the board, I’m still inspired by it.
Robert Skydell lives in Chilmark.