06/16/2010 06:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Real Cost of Cape Wind

As the BP Oil debacle sails into the Hall of Shame as the worst environmental crisis in American History, the call for alternative energy sources has grown to a deafening din. Much of the attention has focused on the Cape Wind Project. Already approved by the state, blessed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and championed by Governor Deval Patrick and his administration, Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound would become America's largest off-shore wind farm.

Seems like a slam dunk. Few energies are cleaner than wind, and the biggest criticism so far seems to come from the likes of the Kennedy Family who raise some legitimate concerns, but whose complaints in the main seem a bit elitist; namely, it spoils the view from mansions such as theirs and is bad for yacht sailing. The Boston Globe is running headlines like: "Memo to Cape Wind Foes: Enough Already."

So done and done right? Well... There are legal challenges still pending, including one from the Wampanoag Indian Tribe whose tribal lands could be adversely affected by the construction machinery used to get the project off the ground. But, on the whole, opposition looks like an uphill battle. With 93% of Massachusetts residents in favor of the project, and a preponderance of American citizens calling for energy alternatives, the climate in the country seems to be: get us away from oil and do it now!

One aspect of the Cape Wind Project that is little discussed is the fact that this is not an oil free project. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement published by the U.S. Government, an oil spill in Nantucket Sound is one of the considered risks. The 130 wind turbines all connect to what is called an energy services platform which contains 40,000 gallons of dielectric cooling oil. If this structure is breeched, this oil could reach the shores of Cape Cod within a matter of hours.

Even Audra Parker, President and CEO of The Alliance to Save Our Sound, admits that this is an unlikely scenario, but it is not an impossibility. Says Parker when considering the Gulf crisis, "we're seeing what's possible right now."

Additional issues arise from the fact that the wind-generated power has to be transmitted back to land somehow. Again according to the Environmental Impact Statement, this involves laying large lines along the sea floor which could have an impact on aquatic habitats. There is also concern from environmentalists about birds' flight patterns which might take them perilously close to lethal windmill blades. Still, according to Kert Davies Head of Research for Greenpeace, one of the many environmental organizations that support Cape Wind, "There is no pure technology that doesn't cause any harm." His organization has carefully weighed the costs and benefits of the project and has concluded "It is a bellwether to the renewable energy revolution that needs to happen."

MA Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray agrees, saying, "We can't move fast enough... We are trying to create a new economy in MA around Green Energy that doesn't exist in the density we want it to." Cape Wind would certainly be a showpiece project for this agenda.
Still, opposition groups continue to fight, including sending out reports on the negative financial repercussions for some MA energy customers. These numbers are refuted with equal vigor by other groups who support Cape Wind however.

In his 2005 NY Times Op-ed Patrick Kennedy reminded readers that his Uncle "John F. Kennedy, authorized the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961, and why Nantucket Sound is under consideration as a national marine sanctuary." As he continues to oppose the Cape Wind Project's new energy, I would like to remind Mr. Kennedy that The Gulf Islands National Seashore is also a federally protected "national treasure" and that doesn't seem to be preventing the deluge of oil from old energy from despoiling her shores.

As a native Gulf Coaster, and as someone watching the death of the Gulf unfold in the daily media blitz, I struggle only a little with my feelings about the project. As everyday brings a new image of horror back home, and every news report a new story of the desperation experienced by a people and culture whose lives are being inexorably and horribly changed by big oil's failure of due diligence, it is difficult to think anything but that the costs of Cape Wind and projects like it are well worth paying.

Add all of this to the country's overall need for jobs and a reimagining of our manufacturing economy and I don't see how we can, in good conscience, oppose a project that could lead our country towards a greener economy and lifestyle. Sure there are consequences, some legitimate and some purely NIMBY selfishness, but it is difficult to imagine negative consequences any greater than those imposed on Gulf residents and culture right now. The real cost of Cape Wind would be in the not doing, in not moving forward into the world of cleaner, less hazardous energy options, electing instead to stay in a world where our demand for fuel comes at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.