By George Harvey
On March 14, United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton issued rulings for Cape Wind, a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Four lawsuits brought before the judge had challenged Cape Wind’s permitting approval by the U.S. Department of Interior, on a wide variety of issues ranging from birds and whales to protection of Native American artifacts and navigational safety. Two narrowly defined issues were returned to federal agencies for review, because procedural steps had not been completed properly.
The Cape Wind project was begun in 2001, to provide electrical power from winds on Nantucket Sound. It will include 130 turbines of 3.6 MW each, at an expected cost of $2.6 billion. Average output will be about 174 MW, enough to cover 75% of the needs of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. By switching from fossil fuels to wind power, the Cape Wind project will reduce CO2 emissions by 734,000 tons per year.
As part of the planning process, many hundreds of thousands of dollars went into studies regarding the local avian and marine animal populations. For example, early observations were made of birds in or passing through the area. Some studies included radar so sophisticated it could not only tell the flight paths and altitudes of the birds, it could even sometimes distinguish the species of a bird by its flight characteristics.
The results of the studies were accounted for in the overall design of the wind farm. Designers were able to choose the least intrusive ways to install the towers and transmission cables. The cables will be laid below the sea floor, deeper than sea creatures normally dig, and the installation techniques will be gentle enough that turbidity in the waters should disappear within 24 hours.
We might bear in mind that nothing human beings do can be without some sort of environmental impact. It is certainly true that wind turbines occasionally kill birds. But we have to take that in context. Scientific studies in the US and Canada indicate that the number of birds killed by wind turbines is 5% of the number (or fewer) killed by the fossil fuel plants those turbines replace. Some birds are killed by impact with cooling towers. Many, however, are killed by poisons, and for every one of these, more are poisoned, but do not die. Mammals are also poisoned and killed by fossil fuels. So are large numbers of human beings. Wind does not do these things.
We might expect that with such careful study, everyone would have been very happy about what was going on. One of the sad facts of life, however, is that there are people in this world whose most important marks in history seem to be as plaintiffs in litigation.
It is not really surprising that there were legal problems. A local organization was founded in 2001, almost as early as Cape Wind was, to try to stop the project. This was the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, whose members included a number of wealthy residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket. Teddy Kennedy was famously a member. Walter Cronkite was another, early on, though he withdrew, formally requesting the alliance not to use his image in its advertising any longer. One member who funded lawsuits was William Koch, who had had great success building a fortune based on fossil fuels.
A spokesperson for Cape Wind mentioned a couple of things worth repeating. One is that the current litigation was the seventeenth attempt since 2001 to stall or stop the wind farm. They estimate the total cost of litigation against Cape Wind has run into roughly $30 million. It would be interesting to know where the money came from.
This would appear to be a nearly complete victory for Cape Wind, as there were only two technical issues the court wanted to see given attention, for the forms to be filled in properly, all t’s crossed and all i’s dotted. Curiously, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound produced a press release describing the decision as a landmark victory for the environment, claiming US agencies had been told to “revisit Cape Wind’s impacts on migrating birds and endangered right whales in Nantucket Sound due to violations of environmental protection law.”
We might say we agree in part. The decision was a victory for the environment because it saves untold thousands of birds and other animals from being poisoned by fossil fuels.
Environmental organizations supporting Cape Wind include the Conservation Law Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others. We do not have room here even to begin the list of other organizations, let alone that of well-known people supporting it.
Cape Wind’s website can be found at .