June 30, 2010
National Journal: No Waves Until Obama Decides on Cape Wind
By Yael Borofsky, Breakthrough Fellow
Like any savvy tourist trap that knows the President of the United States will be dropping in, Martha's Vineyard is prepared to play the gracious host to the Obama family this week. But a recent article in the National Journal highlights how local Cape Wind activists, including Breakthrough Senior Fellow Barbara Hill, the executive director of Clean Power Now, are intent on making sure President Obama addresses the offshore wind debate before he relaxes on the Cape Cod sand.
A proposed 130-turbine offshore wind farm located in the Nantucket Sound has been mired in the planning phase due to NIMBY-induced controversy since 2001. Both Clean Power Now, who is advocating for the wind farm, and its adversary, The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, are tapping grassroots support in an effort to convince the President to endorse their position.
At stake is not just the future of Cape Wind, but numerous other proposals slated for locations up and down the east coast, not to mention far-reaching impacts on the future of renewables in the United States. Cape Wind has become the designated representative of offshore wind projects as it is the farthest along in the permit process. According to Barbara Hill:
We are hoping for him [President Obama] to speak out about this issue specifically because of the national significance of this... [the project] could literally jump-start a new industry in this country. Once we get the first one out there, it's going to open up the gates.
Political opposition to the project is coming from some unexpected sources. Both democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Bill Delahunt have spoken out against Cape Wind despite its potential to be a national example of successful renewable energy deployment. Opponents like the The Alliance, who are concerned the wind farm will damage the quality of the environment (read: their scenic beach front views), would like the President to delay the decision until a new ocean zoning policy is enacted in December. Their hope is that Cape Wind will be replaced by projects proposed in other locations - not their backyards.
Obama, who never explicitly addressed the project throughout his campaign or his presidency, demonstrated his support for wind energy on Earth Day by outlining an offshore electricity generation program that would include wind, wave and ocean current power.
According to the American Wind Energy Association's offshore wind expert, Laurie Jodziewicz, a pending decision from the Interior Department is expected to be positive given a favorable environmental impact statement. This, along with the knowledge that further setbacks for Cape Wind would signify a major failure for the entire offshore wind industry, should hold some sway over the President. Hill also plans to emphasize the fact that if Cape Wind fails, President Obama may not see an offshore wind project come to fruition during this administration.
If Obama lends his presidential support to the project, Hill predicts a surge in offshore wind investments:
It would send a signal to the investment community...If the president is going to be talking specifically about the project, it has the potential to launch an entire new industry.
The President's trip to Martha's Vineyard represents another opportunity for him to make good on his campaign promise to ensure that 10% of electricity comes from renewable sources, like offshore wind farms, by 2012 and 25% by 2025. With 165 Clean Power Now members anxiously awaiting his Sunday arrival at a variety of tourist attractions, Obama will not be able to avoid making this critical decision.