U.S. Department of the Interior Secre tary Ken Salazar made a big point of saying recently that wind development had to be done right and in the “right places.” No one can disagree with those sentiments, and they were certainly issued for public consumption. However, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is under his control, doesn’t seem to have heard him, or perhaps just tuned him out.

A major factor that has delayed and bedeviled the Cape Wind proposal on federally controlled Horseshoe Shoal (now under final review by Salazar) in Nantucket Sound, has been that the developers started with the answer instead of the question. The question was, and is as Mr. Salazar implies, what is the right location for an offshore wind factory? In truth, the construction of hundreds of huge wind turbines in the seabed is an unprecedented industrial intrusion into areas no less environmentally sensitive, or perhaps even more so in some cases, than mountaintops and ridgelines on land.

Cape Wind decided on its location first because at the time there were no regulations governing turbine construction in federal waters, and Horseshoe Shoal was exempt from state and local control. There was no prior analysis that concluded Horseshoe Shoal was an ideal location for a wind factory. The recent behavior of MMS suggests not much has changed. By designating nearly 4,000 square-nautical-miles for wind factory leasing off the south shores of the Vineyard and Nantucket, the area’s borders based strictly on water depth and political boundaries, without any prior analysis of limits imposed by shipping routes, whale and bird migration routes, cultural considerations, or fishing grounds, the problems posed by Cape Wind on 25 square miles will be projected onto 4,000 square-miles. MMS says those limiting concerns will be addressed later. Huh? Isn’t that why Cape Wind is still tied in knots nine years on? Are we now going to repeat the flawed process of the Ocean Plan and Cape Wind on a much more massive scale?

Amazingly, offshore wind development, on both the state and federal level, has taken on a momentum of urgency and haste that is mind-boggling, considering the inertia that usually attends government initiatives. Between the commonwealth’s flawed Ocean Plan, and the MMS offshore leasing initiatives, one would think there is no higher national priority at the moment than industrializing the ocean with huge wind turbines as quickly as possible.

Somehow, after dawdling for almost four decades about alternative energy sources, the commonwealth and the federal government have decided that it has to be done now, but seemingly with as little planning and scrutiny as possible. On the one hand, one could easily say “better late than never,” but the frantic behavior of the bureaucrats raises the obvious question of what is suddenly driving this huge juggernaut now when the need for alternative energy sources has been crystal clear since 1973? The answer appears to be, yet again, money. Not the money from the sale of power from the turbines, not the crying need to reduce our reliance on imported oil and fossil fuels in general, but the tax subsidies being offered to private developers to build the turbines.

From Feb. 10 to 12, San Diego will host a national Wind Power Finance Summit where every heavy-hitting law firm, and Wall Street finance operation will be available to potential wind developers, tutoring them on how to line up at the government trough as the floodgates of federal money are opened, and also offering to represent them. The rake-off is probably huge. While there is nothing wrong with a public-private partnership to advance a new technology, especially in a time of economic recession, the lack of overall energy planning, however, is woeful, as the MMS leasing initiative demonstrates. Perhaps most woeful is the lack of clarity about how much reduction in fossil-fuel based power production will be achieved by the massive industrialization of the oceans and the injection of tens of billions of tax dollars.

Not everything is wrong, however. The MMS has gathered a large group of stakeholders representing federal, state, and local officials, approximately 50 in number for the Massachusetts group, to explain the leasing process, and allegedly asking it for input. The MMS calls this group an intergovernmental task force. The Vineyard delegation to the task force, of which I am a member, represents all six towns, the county, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the tribe. (In comparison, no such gathering was held by Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles in formulating the state’s Ocean Plan, which was a mistake.) Such a task force would seem to be a rational approach to begin solving a complex problem.

But having participated in the two task force meetings held to date, one last November and the other on Jan. 27, it is clear that the task force is essentially taskless. There is no mandate, authority, process or real agenda for the group. Indeed, the agenda of the meetings seems to change just as soon as any questions or concerns are raised by the participants. It is hard not to conclude that we are there mostly as window dressing, and meant to be a docile audience to the performance of a script written behind closed doors, and to a predetermined larger agenda.

Part of that larger agenda seems to be to shop the MMS map (published on the Gazette’s front page last week) to potential developers to stimulate their interest at the finance summit next week. The proposed leasing area hasn’t been vetted through other federal initiatives, nor has the task force agreed to it, although it was implied at both meetings that the task force would have a say on setting the leasing area boundaries. Indeed, on Jan. 27, when the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, the Massachusetts State Historical Officer, and members of the Vineyard delegation all raised questions about the designated area, the task force meeting was ended early before the agenda was covered. That seemed to say it all.

The search for the right places? Actually, it hasn’t begun.

Richard Knabel is a West Tisbury selectman.