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When Jim Gordon set out to build a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, he knew some people might object. But there was a lot of merit in creating a privately funded, clean energy source for energy-starved New England, and he felt sure most people would recognize it eventually. Instead, all Hell broke loose. Gordon had unwittingly challenged the privileges of some of America's richest and most politically connected people, and they would fight him tooth and nail, no matter what ...
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When Jim Gordon set out to build a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, he knew some people might object. But there was a lot of merit in creating a privately funded, clean energy source for energy-starved New England, and he felt sure most people would recognize it eventually. Instead, all Hell broke loose. Gordon had unwittingly challenged the privileges of some of America's richest and most politically connected people, and they would fight him tooth and nail, no matter what it cost, and even when it made no sense.
Cape Wind is a rollicking tale of democracy in action and plutocracy in the raw as played out among colorful and glamorous characters on one of our country's most historic and renowned pieces of coastline. As steeped in American history and local color as The Prince of Providence; as biting, revealing and fun as Philistines at the Hedgerow, it is also a cautionary tale about how money can hijack democracy while America lags behind the rest of the developed world in adopting clean energy.
Williams and Whitcomb, both journalists and Cape Cod residents, have written a caustic firsthand report of the political maneuvers involving Cape Wind, a proposed wind energy project. In 2001, Boston energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon proposed building America's first offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound using 130 wind turbines to produce 420 megawatts of renewable energy for the Cape Cod region. Because the Northeast lacks indigenous fossil fuels and has an aging electrical grid, Gordon thought his wind farm would be welcomed. Instead, using the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) argument, some of America's most wealthy residents living on the cape's south shore and others with Nantucket connections, including Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Gov. Mitt Romney, launched a well-funded opposition. A grassroots backlash by those who perceived this interference as a hijacking of the democratic process responded, and the Cape Wind battle was under way. This well-written and well-researched work shows the challenges of evolving past our reliance on fossil fuels and is recommended for all New England libraries and all alternate energy collections.
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead. Ben Franklin
The season began typically enough. Having just completed its annual plant and bake sale, the Osterville Garden Club prepared for its midseason garden tour. The Reverend David Angelica, of the town of Orleans's Church of the Holy Spirit, praised the miracle of millions of dollars raised to renovate the church sanctuary. Dennis residents donned yellow-and-white T-shirts emblazoned with Save the Crowe, a campaign to save some pastureland from what they called "the invasion of McMansions." All over Cape Cod, men raked leaves and clipped hedges, women planted flower bulbs, kids went to malls. The sound of traffic began to climb to its summertime crescendo.
Out on the ocean, Swedish linen exporter Bernt Larsson and his wife neared the Cape after sailing their forty-four-foot sailboat across the Atlantic. Government scientists had just completed a routine tagging of harbor seals off Chatham. The Coast Guard was searching desperately for a Yarmouth fisherman lost at sea, and staffers at Provincetown's Center for Coastal Studies worried about a right whale tangled up in fishing gear.
Down in Washington the Bush administration talked about opening up Georges Bank, off southeastern New England, to fossil-fuel drilling, outraging local environmentalists and fishermen, as well as Congressman Bill Delahunt's political aide Mark Forest. The Cape Cod Times wrote angry editorials opposing the plan and calling for clean-energy solutions.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy was complaining about the Bush administration's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol and was leading the charge against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, going so far as to vow to filibuster on the Senate floor. The senator did, however, find time for the Figawi Race, sailing from Hyannis to Nantucket, over the Memorial Day weekend. He was "honored" to participate, he said. In years past, the sailboat race had earned some pretty bad publicity when participants enjoyed a bit too much drunken revelry over on the island, but the race spokesman promised that participants these days were "more mature." Some Cape Codders may have believed him.
For another famous Cape Cod sailor, William Koch, of elite Osterville's yacht-crazed Oyster Harbors Club crowd, it was also business as usual. Koch, who had once won the America's Cup and who had lived long and hard on those laurels, was winding up yet another of his lengthy court suits. This particular legal battle had been waged against his brothers, who ran the family fossil-fuel business inherited from their father, Fred Koch, supporter of the John Birch Society and founder of Koch Industries. Bill Koch's theatrical legal fight ended by his giving in to his brothers, selling them his share of the company, and then starting his own energy company, Oxbow Group, which specialized in a variety of extractive- and fossil-fuel-mining endeavors. "Blood and money is a very explosive mixture," Koch had recently told CBS News.
* * *
Cape Codders always look forward to summer, but this year they were even more ready for the commencement of party season. The past winter had been nasty. While the nation had weathered the storm of the Bush-Gore election and the Enron saga, local electricity prices had skyrocketed.
"The high prices for oil are here to stay," warned Matthew Patrick, a forty-nine-year-old newly elected state representative who had once led a citizens' organization dedicated to reducing citizens' energy costs.
Cape Cod's many low-income and fixed-income residents clamored for solutions. On June 18, readers of the daily Cape Cod Times found an editorial touting the benefits of ocean-based energy technology. "Offshore wind and wave energy could supplement our power grid," Times editors wrote. Calling the ocean an "untapped powerhouse of energy," editors praised the German government for suggesting that offshore wind projects could replace nuclear-power plants.
Reading the editorial, Jim Gordon smiled to himself. He and his team, working in Boston sixty miles north of Cape Cod on their not-yet-made-public wind-farm proposal, were about to give the editors what they said they wanted. The paper frequently ranted about the pollution emerging from the fossil-fuel-fired Cape Cod Canal electrical plant, a mid-twentieth-century dinosaur that provided most of Cape Cod's power. Sometimes emitting burps of corrosive chemicals that destroyed paint jobs on cars and boats, the plant spread deadly airborne particulates over many miles. Not just Cape Cod suffered. Elsewhere, in the poorer cities and communities to the west and north, the air was bad. Soon, Gordon thought, Cape Cod will have an alternative to that dirty old eyesore.
Energy was on the minds of other Cape Codders as well. Senior scientist George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, traveled to Washington's National Press Club to charge that the Bush administration's energy policy was nothing but drill, drill, drill. Ocean drilling, Woodwell said, was the last thing America needed, given the realities of global warming. Give emerging clean-energy technologies a try, he suggested.
Another environmental gadfly, Brian Braginton-Smith, uncredentialed but earnest, agreed. A well-known and much-liked local character who wrote letters to the editor and whose father owned a popular local hangout, Braginton-Smith dreamed of an "ocean ranch" that would farm both fish and wind. During the summer of 1999, he had gone to Boston to try to talk to Vice President Al Gore. Gore had kindly given him a few minutes, then directed him to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Boston Globe environmental writer Scott Allen picked up the story. Cute idea, doesn't have a prayer, he thought. Still, the concept was innovative. Allen wrote a story, which ran under the headline "Git along, li'l pogy: Plan has ocean cowboys raising food, wind energy." The journalist described Braginton-Smith's dream of boosting Cape Cod's prosperity by building a Nantucket Sound platform from which "ocean cowboys" would farm fish in pens and maintain roughly fifty electricity-generating wind turbines. Offshore wind turbines sounded to Allen new and exciting, if perhaps a bit outlandish.
The journalist's story along with a huge color photo ran on the front of the city news section, with a jump to an inside page. It was nearly impossible to miss. Among those who noticed were energy entrepreneurs Peter Gish and Brian Caffyn, just returned from building several land-based wind projects in Italy. They called Braginton-Smith to talk about a potential partnership.
Braginton-Smith then followed through on Gore's suggestion to contact the Department of Energy (DoE). He met with the DoE's Albert Benson, an older man nearing retirement who enjoyed mentoring and whose extensive and impressive résumé included a twenty-four-year stint with Mobil involving project development and financing. Soured on fossil fuels for a long list of reasons, which included geopolitics, air pollution, and the inevitable end of oil and gas supplies, Benson immediately saw the possibilities in Braginton-Smith's idea. An engineer with a degree in geology who served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in both Vietnam and Korea in the late 1960s, Benson was an eminently practical man with solid experience in transforming the ideas of creative thinkers into real-world technology.
Having followed the development of wind technology, he knew the industry had recently come of age. Increasingly sophisticated engineering coupled with improvements in materials had brought the cost of a wind-generated kilowatt-hour down from thirty cents to ten cents over the past twenty years and the downward slide was continuing. During the same time period, the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by fossil fuels had doubled and would likely continue to rise. Including a large amount of wind-which obviously had no fuel costs-in New England's electric generation portfolio mix would provide an excellent hedge on those escalating fossil-fuel prices.
Drop the fish farm idea, Benson advised. Focus solely on wind power. For New England, wind was the way to go. Then Benson suggested a bold concept: an offshore project of about 500 megawatts. A project that large, Benson said, would be a significant contribution to New England's energy supply and would be large enough to attract serious investors.
As electricity consumption per household continued to rise, Benson knew that communities would need to look at whatever indigenous resources they had. Cape Cod obviously had no fossil fuels, and the sun often hid for days at a time. One thing the resort area did have was wind. The wind blew off the ocean almost constantly, sometimes gently, sometimes viciously. Clearly that was the resource the region should exploit.
Benson had once overseen the management of Mobil's largest natural-gas-production field but had chosen to leave the company after a 1988 in-house study projected future severe natural-gas shortages. Time to get out of the fossil-fuel world, he thought. New ideas were needed. He worked temporarily for Massachusetts as an energy analyst, but decided he could achieve more by working with the federal government.
Mulling over the concept of a wind farm in wind-rich Nantucket Sound, Benson grew ever more enthusiastic. In Europe, wind was already substantial. Denmark, in fact, produced roughly 20 percent of its power from wind turbines. European governments had smoothly integrated the clean technology into their fossil-fuel-dominated electrical grids, and Benson had read about successful small-scale offshore wind projects in northern Europe.
The boldness of a 500-megawatt project excited Benson, who began to research how this new concept would proceed through the regulatory system. He produced a white paper saying that, under existing regulations, issuing project permits would be the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers, which was granted authority under the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act. The Minerals Management Service of the federal Department of the Interior oversaw offshore oil and gas drilling, but when Benson called to ask what role that agency would play in permitting a wind farm, officials laughed. "We don't do anything but extractive stuff," they said.
He made one basic assumption: that the project would be considered based on societal need. No problem there, he'd thought. The case for societal need seemed obvious. All you had to do was look at Cape Cod's air pollution, among the worst in New England, or at the region's overdependence on natural gas. More than 40 percent of New England's electrical generation depended upon that soon-to-be-scarce commodity. New Englanders had to change, and change soon, Benson believed. Otherwise, it might be too late and the region might experience rolling blackouts. Wind could fill that gap, but, as with any new technology, the engineers who keep New England's lightbulbs glowing would need time to go through a learning curve.
* * *
While Benson and Braginton-Smith met, Gish and Caffyn were talking rather extravagantly about as many as 700 turbines providing as much as 2,400 megawatts of electricity. The duo wanted to build their project farther out to sea in an area known as Nantucket Shoals, several miles south of Nantucket Island. The site was impractical, distant from any adequate landfall connection and very vulnerable to the rough Atlantic storms. Many industry experts thought the proposal far-fetched, at least for the near future.
Then Jim Gordon showed up. He too had read Scott Allen's Boston Globe feature story. He too had started dreaming about a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Gordon proposed that he and his engineering team, Braginton-Smith, Gish, and Caffyn team up. The Nantucket Shoals idea was shelved. The group budgeted $5 million in development costs, which in early 2001 seemed more than they would need.
Braginton-Smith began visiting various Cape Cod organizations to talk about the project that would soon become known as Cape Wind. Among those he visited was Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John O'Brien, who saw himself as an important player in the small-town political scene. O'Brien gave him the nod. He visited the daily newspaper, whose editors gave him the nod. He also visited Spyro Mitrokostas, the executive director of the Cape Cod Technology Council. Mitrokostas, forty-two, a London School of Economics grad and former Michael Dukakis presidential-campaign aide, thought the proposal had the potential to provide much-needed industry for Cape Cod, as well as steady, year-round, well-paid, high-tech employment. Far from seeing the sleek, modern turbines as industrial blight, he hoped the project would be very visible from the shoreline. Maybe it would encourage his children to become engineers.
"If this is Jim Gordon's project, why doesn't Gordon come and tell us about it?" Mitrokostas asked Braginton-Smith.
When Gordon, at six foot one and 165 pounds, walked into the room, Mitrokostas was impressed. He saw a man who had to be taken seriously. Gordon's closely cropped hair, athletic appearance, and neat but basic clothing belied his self-made wealth. The guy's substantive, thought Mitrokostas, who had expected someone a bit more flaky looking. He had little patience for environmentalists or aging hippies, but Gordon had a strong presence and spoke clearly, directly, and sometimes even eloquently.
Gordon knew the energy business and was obviously a no-nonsense type, but what was most striking was his intense earnestness. He concluded his presentation by asking for the sale, which also impressed Mitrokostas.
"I'd like your support," Gordon said.
"I'll help," Mitrokostas answered.
Then he warned the developer to be cautious.
"Only two or three hundred people run the Cape," he told the Boston-based entrepreneur. "If you don't have them on your side, forget it. If Ted doesn't like this, you're going to have a problem," he warned, alluding to the state's powerful senior senator.
On the other hand, he added, you might not have trouble with the crafty old senator. Kennedy seemed to have boxed himself in by spearheading the fight to keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge closed to drilling and by opposing drilling in North Atlantic waters. Given those well-known positions, to keep from being called a hypocrite Kennedy might have to support the wind-farm proposal.
As Gordon and his team continued to meet with Cape Codders, their belief that the project would be welcomed continued to grow. Only one politician seemed hesitant. Matt Patrick, the state representative interested in energy, had a run-in with Gordon and his lobbyist Neal Costello. The duo wanted money from the state's renewable-energy fund to pay for some of the wind farm's preliminary research, but Patrick refused. He had played an important role in getting the legislation passed that created the fund and believed it should be used for individual homeowners and for small public projects, rather than for private projects meant to turn a profit for investors. Gordon backed down.
The team moved into midsummer feeling pleased. Braginton-Smith reported that business leaders, local environmentalists, and the Cape Cod Times editorial board, including the conservative young publisher Peter Meyer of Osterville and his editor, Cliff Schechtman, liked the proposal. At the end of June, the Times had a small story that began by asking if project backers were serious. Cape Cod Times business writer Jim Kinsella talked with officials from several agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They seemed more curious than critical. Exactly what the regulatory process would entail remained murky. Nothing like this had ever been done in U.S. waters.
* * *
Using the wind to turn on a lightbulb is an old idea, as old as the lightbulb itself. In July 1859-the year that the teenaged Thomas Edison ran away from home to sell candy on a Midwestern train and the year that the middle-aged Colonel Edwin L. Drake would finally succeed in drilling the first commercial oil well in northwestern Pennsylvania-Moses G. Farmer of Salem, Massachusetts, delighted his young and rather dour New England wife, Hannah, by wiring up what seems to have been the world's first domestic lightbulb to a primitive battery to light up her parlor. Even the editor of the local Salem newspaper was said to be enchanted by the soft, bright light on Hannah's mantelpiece. Hannah was thrilled. All that month, as people from as far away as Boston came to troop through her parlor, the young wife glowed almost as brightly as her lightbulb.
Excerpted from Cape Wind by Wendy Williams Robert Whitcomb Copyright © 2007 by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb. Excerpted by permission.
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