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Finally, a Political Tailwind for Offshore Wind Power

COM grad Jim Gordon’s plans for Nantucket Sound gather momentum


Jim Gordon believes that by 2012 he will build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound that will look much like one up and running off Nysted, Denmark. Photos courtesy Cape Wind

Sitting in his Arlington Street office, musing about seismic political shifts in Washington, Jim Gordon, whose 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound has been stalled by legal challenges, controversy, and red tape for eight years, does one thing he hasn’t done before: he refers to his opposition in the past tense.

“They’ve marginalized themselves,” says Gordon (COM’75), CEO of Cape Wind. “That, and the earth has shifted under their feet.”

Gordon is talking about political turf as much as growing awareness that the best response to global warming will involve wind and solar energy. President Obama has given a broad endorsement of renewables as a cornerstone of his energy policy, and the administration’s new secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, has zeroed in on Gordon’s project, announcing support for turbines atop the shallows of Horseshoe Shoal between Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, along with the bulk of state and federal regulators, also has signed on to the project that Gordon says will supply 75 percent of the electricity needed on the Cape and islands, with zero emissions, zero water consumption, zero waste discharge, and zero foreign energy. And reputable polling data suggest that more than 80 percent of the Massachusetts public now thinks building a mammoth wind farm in the Sound is a sound idea.

Gordon sees his project as having the potential to kick-start a whole new industry. “I believe that offshore wind could be the next biotech, the next medical tech,” he says. “We could become the world’s leader in this, too. This project alone, ready to go, will create hundreds of jobs in technological spin-offs, helping allied industries.”

There is still one political player, however, who is not aligned: Edward M. Kennedy, the state’s senior U.S. senator, elder statesman, and most powerful politician. Kennedy has provided political cover and credibility for a small but wealthy alliance, funded mainly by property owners on the Cape and islands, which has fought the wind farm in Congress, in court, and through the regulatory process. So while regulators are all but satisfied, there are still opportunities to change the fate of the project in Washington, and more court appeals could keep it stalled.

Kennedy maintains that his opposition to Gordon’s wind farm is based on his belief that Nantucket Sound, whose waters he has plied so often in his sailboat, should not be industrialized by a huge grid of interconnected turbines whirring atop massive poles speared deep into the ocean’s floor. But it’s true that on all but the foggiest days, Gordon’s wind farm would be visible from Kennedy’s beloved family compound in Hyannis, leaving him open to the charge of NIMBYism: that’s a fine idea and all, just not in my backyard.

Mention of Kennedy transforms the relaxed, genial Gordon into a guarded, careful interviewee: “I’m hoping now that Senator Kennedy has the benefit of all the environmental reviews, from 17 distinct agencies, showing that Cape Wind will produce significant benefits with minimal impacts,” Gordon says, “that he will become a supporter of this project. After all, he’s always expressed the need for energy independence and reversing climate change.”

Gordon knows full well that such a sea change is not likely. He also knows that Kennedy’s failing health renders the conflict more sensitive than ever. He acknowledges that even if all the permits come through within a few months, more legal challenges and political wrangling are likely. But for Gordon, backing down now, after building so much support and spending $40 million of his own money on everything from scientific studies to legal action to lobbying in Congress, is not an option.

“We’ve been up against some very powerful political forces all along,” he says with a shrug, “but I had faith. Really, it was the merits that kept coming to the fore.

“I want to produce electricity by 2012. I just feel at this point that we, as a nation, have wasted so many years.”

Seth Rolbein can be reached at srolbein@bu.edu.


8 Comments on Finally, a Political Tailwind for Offshore Wind Power

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2009 at 10:19 am

    Sail and Wind Turbines are one and the same

    I have been sailing in Nantucket Sound for more than 25 years and I have been 100% for this wind farm, and frustrated by the wrong-headed (and selfish) arguments given by the minority opposition. To me, part of the heratige of this area is wind power, whether it be fleets of clipper ships or an array of ballerina wind turbines dancing on the water. I believe they look beautiful. Instead, I would like to see the old oil fired power plant on the cape cod canal shut down as they have had bad oil spills

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2009 at 10:58 am

    why can’t people realize that these offshore wind turbines are what’s best for us? I mean, it’s clean renewable energy and people are up in arms about the “aesthetics” of the turbines. No wonder the country is going down the tube.

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2009 at 12:15 pm

    I think it is wonderful that our country is finally starting to look toward renewable energy resources. We are one of the countries that uses the most electricity, it is about time we finally do something about it. Whether we reduce our uses or look to better energy sources, everything is necessary to stop global warming.

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2009 at 3:39 pm

    If only Big Wind were the green santa they say it is. Those turbines are not going to just float out there. There is environmental impact when you pile drive industrial scale machinery into undisturbed ocean bottom. There will be miles of high voltage cable from each turbine. And though wind is supposedly “clean” they need power from traditional power plants to run. Grid goes down, the stop producing electricity. It’s the only renewable energy option that keeps us reliant on coal burning plants or other thermal plants. The bright red-herring of “NIMBY-ism” keeps thinking people from looking into the serious environmental impacts utility scale wind projects will have. The ruined view is the least of concerns, but it’s always cited as the main reason for opposition to Big Wind. There is a BIG STORY here that you’re ignoring. What happened to investigative journalism?

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2009 at 5:39 pm

    All of this talk..

    Of clean, renewable energy. I would like to find one credible climate expert say that man has anything to do with global warming. “An Inconvenient Truth” is not scientific, and saying something is true doesn’t make it true. All of this hysteria going into why man is at the fault of everything is preposterous and is truly getting out of control.

    Think for yourselves, people. Sure, getting off of oil dependence would be a good thing, but saying that’s what’s best for us? Are you kidding me? The country isn’t going down the tubes.

  • Anonymous on 03.28.2009 at 4:55 pm

    Anyone Surprised?

    I can’t see how anyone would be surprised at Senator Kennedy’s attitude. It has been consistent through his career and consistent amongst his family–a sense of entitlement and a willingness to use their power to perpetuate their entitlement.

    America’s royal family, indeed!

  • backatcha on 03.28.2009 at 5:05 pm

    Fair Winds for Cape Wind...

    Well done Seth!…

    As one of the +10,000 members of Clean Power Now (CPN) based on Cape Cod it is always nice to read another positive piece about the project and the man behind it.

    Getting to know Jim Gordon over the last 8years I have nothing but the hightest regard & respect for the man who exudes honesty, integrity and wisdom on a daily basis…

    Who can rightfully hold his head high…

    Despite the onslaught of reprehensible and underhanded personal attacks by the COAL & OIL backed opponents.

    Go Jim Gordon!

    P.s. Please visit CPN’s site @ cleanpowernow.org for the facts about the project.

  • Residential Wind Power on 08.08.2009 at 9:14 pm

    Residential Wind Power

    Ofcourse ofshore wind turbines are a great idea that needs to be pushed more and more. I think that another area that should be promoted more aswell is the possibility of home wind turbines. This would be like building a wind farm but everyone would have their own.

    At least the future of wind power is looking good!

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