Cape Wind

PHOTOGRAPH BY ASIA KEPKA

Choppy Seas - Jim Gordon has spent more than $20 million on permits and legal fees. Photograph by Asia Kepka.

A Cool Breeze

By Art Jahnke

Jim Gordon thinks one green energy solution is blowing in the wind

Nine years ago, Jim Gordon set out to catch the wind—and turn it into electricity with 130 wind turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty, planted in the sheltered waters of Nantucket Sound. Gordon (COM’75) estimated that on a good day his turbines could provide three quarters of the electric power needed by Cape Cod and the Islands. But despite that promise, what Gordon actually caught was a gale of opposition, mainly from wealthy property owners in the area.

“This has not been an easy road,” Gordon told Bostonia in a 2005 interview. At that point he had spent more than $20 million on permits and legal fees. “Their strategy is to delay and try to make the developer spend itself into oblivion.” Oblivion was not on the list of places the already successful entrepreneur wanted to visit; Gordon has always had grand destinations in mind. As an undergraduate, he studied broadcast and film, with a minor in marketing, and had his sights set on Hollywood. His first job, for better or worse, was closer to marketing than broadcasting: selling subscriptions to cable TV.

Then one day during the 1975 Arab oil embargo, Gordon found himself waiting in a long gas line on Brighton Avenue. “I realized that energy was going to be an issue that would loom ever larger in our economy and our national security,” he recalls. With $3,000 in savings, Gordon founded Energy Management, Inc., selling off-the-shelf products to improve energy efficiency. When oil prices imploded in 1984, he saw an opportunity in natural gas, and has since built six natural gas cogeneration plants and one wood-burning biomass facility. Then, in 1999, new federal and state incentives encouraged hydroelectric and wind power. “We saw that wind power was ready for prime time,” Gordon says. Energy Management sold five of its natural gas plants for more than $250 million, and he spent the next year exploring possible locations for a wind farm. He settled on Nantucket Sound, he says, because the population in the area was growing, and energy needs were clearly on the rise. In summer 2010, Gordon’s dream moved closer to reality. But while U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared in April that the Cape Wind project should proceed, Gordon still faces some choppy seas.

A new raft of opponents has risen from just about every landmass surrounding the proposed site. Some of the opposition comes from local Wampanoag Indians, who believe the site Gordon chose for his farm is sacred ground. In June, six groups filed suits in federal district court in Washington, D.C., claiming that the project will “exact a terrible toll” on federally protected migratory birds and possibly on whales. In July, more noise erupted when consumers learned that National Grid, an energy company serving New England and New York, had agreed to buy power from Cape Wind, which could raise prices for its customers. Gordon is going full steam ahead. “We are happy to report that Cape Wind has achieved its federal and state approvals, “ he says. “The federal and state regulators have found that our project will produce significant public interest benefits, such as increased energy independence, climate mitigation, new green jobs, and stable electricity costs.” One of the wind farm project’s last hurdles, he says, is winning approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. He believes that will happen soon. Cape Wind will be producing electricity, Gordon predicts, by the end of 2012.

This article originally appeared in Bostonia’s Fall 2010 issue