U.S. Wind Power’s Bipartisan Opponents
What happens if enterprising spirits want to bring wind power to Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound?
September 10, 2007
America’s elites like to exercise their power quietly and effectively — but, if need be, also ruthlessly.
Take the case of a small company, Energy Management Inc., led by Jim Gordon, that is attempting to put up a wind farm in the middle of Nantucket Sound, to be called Cape Wind. The area is a summer playground to some of the richest people in the world.
What Mr. Gordon did not realize is that his plans to promote renewable energy in the generally liberal state of Massachusetts ran afoul of an important constituency — America’s rich and famous, who are determined to protect the serene settings around their large homes at any cost. In fact, some members of that venerable class have come to feel that they control, or should control, everything to the horizon.
That’s what Jim Gordon and his associates at Energy Management Inc. found as they struggled to put up 130 wind turbines in the middle of Nantucket Sound.
While these turbines would only be visible half an inch above the horizon, on the clearest days, from the shoreline mansions and clubs of the project’s foes, the wind farm’s opponents have acted with great determination to scuttle the project.
Evidently, when it comes to protecting their personal pleasures and “lifestyle” interests, the Kennedys, including the famed “environmentalist” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., happily consort with Republican coal industrialists.
Robert Kennedy has complained that the wind farm would be bad for fishing, would scare away tourists and would hurt residential property values, in contradiction to what has happened with European offshore wind farms.
At the root of his opposition is that his very rich family owns summer houses on the south coast of Cape Cod, on the strip of coast nearest to the project — and near waters where he and his family like to sail their boats.
Many of the project’s opponents have close ties to the fossil-fuel industry, including such coal, oil and gas industry luminaries as William Koch, Douglas Yearley, and now, the CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Glenn Wattley — a coal industry insider. It almost seems as if these people don’t want any clean-energy competition with their investments.
Of course, to oppose this clean-energy project so vehemently soon enough became very awkward. As a result, the opponents had to drum up other concerns, all of which turned out to be specious, about Cape Wind’s alleged threat to wildlife, navigation and so on.
Unfortunately for the project’s opponents, scientists, regulatory agencies and such environmental organizations as the Audubon Society took a close look at all of these objections — and found them lacking.
That, of course, did not stop the opponents. Organized by Mr. Wattley’s group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, these well-financed forces stepped up their fight, especially in Washington. They made sure that their voice was heard loud and clear in the lobbying machine that, sadly, now runs a lot of the United States.
So far, they have spent more than $20 million to ensure that they have their way in this matter, as they have in most others. And they are determined to spend much more, especially in Washington. Never mind that most people in the state of Massachusetts itself strongly support the Cape Wind project.
And it makes plain the curious fact that, the higher up you go in U.S. society, the more likely you are to identify yourself as an “environmentalist” — at least as far as conserving your own property is concerned.
In this case, rich foes of the wind-farm project — thanks to their two- or three-month-a-year residence on the sound — have acted as if they own all of Nantucket Sound.
While their rhetoric is always very “green,” the reality is that not only do these “conservationists” and “environmentalists” often use the earth’s resources far more than plain folks.
They also try to squash any large clean-energy projects near them because these projects — even if only to a miniscule degree — would change the appearance of areas the rich consider entirely theirs. But then, they don’t want any energy projects near them, although they are individually vast users of fossil-fuel energy.
Apparently, along the lines of the late Leona Helmsley’s famous remark — that “only the little people” pay taxes — the rich folks of Nantucket Sound who oppose Cape Wind believe that power plants are for poor people to put up with.
All of which would just be comic — if it weren’t for the fact that this group of rich people has long known how to use the system not just to enrich, but also to protect, themselves.
A dubious practice is the use of nonprofit (therefore untaxed) organizations to keep land as undevelopable buffers around their Cape Cod estates. This allows rich people perpetual privacy from the rest of the population — and raises the value of the land that they own outright. Better yet, all of this activity is subsidized by the rest of the public.
All in all, the Cape Wind saga is a microcosm of how power is exercised in the United States of America. Ultimately, it is a saga of hypocrisy and arrogance that is, by turns, amusing — and very sad indeed to chronicle in a purported democracy.
Editorial Page Editor, Providence Journal Robert Whitcomb is the co-author of “Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound.” He is also a vice president and the editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal. Before coming to the Providence Journal, Mr. Whitcomb was the financial editor of the […]