November 18, 2009
Cape WIN: Triumph Over NIMBY
After almost a decade of NIMBY opposition Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has handed a big win to Cape Wind -- what will become the country's first offshore wind farm -- and the future of offshore wind in the U.S.
Yet, environmentalists are bitterly divided over support for Cape Wind -- a 130 turbine, 430 megawatt clean energy project that is scheduled for siting about six miles offshore and could meet up to 75% of Cape Cod's power needs. The conflict between those who see Cape Wind as a step towards a clean energy future and those who consider it a "corporate giveaway to private industrial energy developers" says much about the scale of the challenges to clean energy adoption in the U.S.
The Breakthrough Institute has advocated for the project since 2005, when Robert Kennedy Jr. led a public fight to block the wind farm. Breakthrough's Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle and organized an open letter with other global warming writers, including Bill McKibben, Ross Gelbspan, and Jon Isham, calling on Kennedy to support the project. Over 150 other global warming writers and activists signed the letter. Nordhaus and Shellenberger continued their critique in a chapter of their 2007 book, Break Through, writing about Cape Wind as a cautionary tale against green NIMBYism.
Breakthrough Senior Fellow Barbara Hill has worked on the front lines of the Cape Wind fight as the Executive Director of Clean Power Now, battling NIMBY arguments from wealthy waterfront homeowners with apparently hypersensitive eyes and ears to newly elected Senator Scott Brown (R-MA).
Breakthrough has argued that the Cape could not be defended as pristine nature since it is a heavily trafficked bay complete with oil tankers and commercial shipping. Even so, it was defended as natural and even sacred, first by Kennedy and allies and more recently by two Wampanoag tribes which claimed that the wind turbines would disrupt traditional rituals and disturb sacred grounds -- albeit ones many feet under water.
The argument that this or that development should be blocked is almost always made in the name of "nature" or the "sacred," rather than in the name of NIMBY, but simply declaring something sacred does not make it such. Human development means having a footprint on the earth. The question is what kind of a footprint do we want to have.
Right now, residents of the Cape and neighboring islands get their electricity from burning oil (most of us get it from coal, dams, or gas). Compare the impact of oil drilling on indigenous people in Ecuador, or on Nigerians to the potential impact of Cape Wind. In terms of energy production, Cape Wind is probably one of the least intrusive energy projects. It would displace the oil-fired power plants that now supply the region with power, thus cutting emissions, oil dependence and the risks of oil spills, two of which have already occurred in the area.
As energy demand rises and population grows, we will only continue to have to make difficult, educated decisions about energy production. The approval of Cape Wind represents a level-headed appraisal of the benefits of deploying clean offshore wind energy that will power the homes and the comfortable lifestyles of approximately 400,000 Cape Cod residents.