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Cape Wind: It’s Complicated

Obama gave the green-energy project a green light. Now, a slew of messy coalitions are going to battle over the future of clean energy.  
By VALERIE VANDE PANNE  |  May 7, 2010


Thousands of years ago, the terrain beneath what is now Nantucket Sound was dry, and populated by the ancestors of the Wampanoag people, who continue to revere it. When tribe members of the Mashpee Wampanoag look out over the sound, they see their past, an ancestral burial ground, and, every morning in a spiritual ritual, the rising sun.

That last element is particularly important to the Wampanoags, as their name translates to “People of the First Light.”

The tribe fears that, should the controversial green-energy Cape Wind project come to fruition, a small army of 440-foot-tall wind turbines (130, altogether) will not only disturb its ancestral grounds, but also obstruct its view of the solar orb as it rises in the eastern sky.

Had the federal government been quicker to acknowledge the tribe’s connection to the sound, the Cape Wind project might have been dead in the water from the get-go. But it was not until recently that a study commissioned by Cape Wind Associates, LLC, turned up evidence that “serves to corroborate [the Wampanoag] oral traditions” — prompting the National Parks service to ask that the Nantucket Sound be added to the National Register of Historical Places, a move that would have shut out Cape Wind’s proposed renewable-energy project in a 24-square-mile stretch known as Horseshoe Shoal.

Last week, however, the contentious Cape Wind project was approved anyway by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, further muddying what is already a particularly complicated quagmire.

As is the norm in these cases, the difficult decision, which involved nine years of government-permitting processes, elated some groups and outraged others. But even in this rancorous political era, Cape Wind stands out as being wrought with more bizarre alliances and fraught with more tension than any in recent memory.

The divide among supporters and opponents can’t be determined by class: there’s money and working-class sweat on both sides of the issue. It’s not split between environmentalists and Wall Street, either — people on both sides favor the expansion of “green energy” sources. And the argument does not reflect party lines: there are Democrats and Republicans both for and against it. In fact, there are split factions within a federal agency, the Department of the Interior.

At best, the sides can be described as a collection of factions with unique motivations that are undeterred by Salazar’s stamp of approval and determined to continue their fights in the courts for years to come.

Strange bedfellows
Abortion, gun control, and health care are not uncontroversial issues, but their fans and foes tend to be somewhat easy to peg. Cape Wind, however, has a set of associations so peculiar and confounding that it updates the old saw “politics makes strange bedfellows” into one more along the lines of “politics makes a grainy, difficult-to-follow orgy.”

Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, who flanked Salazar at the press conference, has long defended the Cape Wind project, and its approval is largely seen as a victory for him. (Two of his presumed challengers in the next gubernatorial election, Republican Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, are against Cape Wind.)

The project has also been backed by Democratic congressman Ed Markey, a leading figure on the Hill in green matters, as well as Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Don Carcieri of Rhode Island.

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  Topics: News Features , Deval Patrick, Barack Obama, National Trust for Historic Preservation,  More more >
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5 Comments / Add Comment


Cape Wind, controversial as it is and has been, is much different than what I would call "Cape Corn," a wind farm recently completed in the corn and bean fields of central Illinois.

Once completed, the wind farms present an odd mix of perspectives and opinions. I recommend an excellent article about this at:

Posted: May 05 2010 at 10:52 PM


Thank you far for the first non-partisan article I have read regarding this project. While I oppose the windfarm in it's current location, I can appreciate both sides of the issue and wish that this project had been planned with input from all the various concerned groups before trying to force it through. With almost no high ground on the Cape to block the winds, the advantage of positioning in Nantucket Sound is negated. There is sufficient public "land" on Cape Cod for this project and this would make for easier operation for Cape Wind. Again, thank you again for a "fact based" article without bias.
Posted: May 07 2010 at 3:32 PM

Ron Huber

Valerie Panne concludes her well writ piece wondering:

"...if this marks the beginning of the end of a unified environmental movement, with energy environmentalists barreling full speed ahead over sacred territory, leaving naturalist environmentalists— land and animal folks — and their fellow opponents, including the Wampanoag, floating in their wake."

I would answer yes. And "wake" is especially apt term: some of the world's leading climatologists are calling on planners to regard the "wind wakes" of ocean windmills: the energy-removal footprint of each power-extracting turbine. Scientists now consider ocean windfarming to have measureable negative impacts on climate stability. See among others the work of Goram Brostrom, oceanographer //
Posted: May 10 2010 at 4:50 PM


Give power back to the people we don't need industrial level wind and solar thermal projects despoiling our remaining federal controlled wilderness areas (green fields) but can put distributed solar PV where the load demand is on homes and businesses (brown fields) and eliminate the need for huge transmission projects that cost billions to ratepayers. Why not? When this is coupled energy efficiency and demand response the customers instead of the electric utilities rule the grid. Here is an article that explains the benefits of DG over conventional power: //
Posted: May 18 2010 at 10:14 PM


Near shore wind projects make no sense. And at over 20 cents a kWh and sizable yearly increases, Cape Wind is way out of line. This project is grossly uneconomic. And who dismantles the towers when it's old and over? If they stay they are navigation hazards. Deep-water (600-700 feet or so) tension leg as planned for off Maine does make sense. Drop the chains and drag in the turbines and the ocean and navigation are none the worse for the project. And 20 miles or so out they are not in any main stream. Cape Wind is a poorly thought out project and is planned in the near-shore European tradition. East coast residents do not cotton to that kind of plan. Stop beating a dead horse. It’s over for Cape Wind.
Posted: July 14 2010 at 2:23 PM
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