A friend once described Nantucket Sound as a body of water surrounded on three sides by money. The outcome of the six-year-long effort to use a small part of that water to house a 130-turbine, 468-megawatt wind farm — still the largest proposed renewable-energy project in the eastern U.S. — will help determine whether we, as a nation, are serious about confronting the climate crisis.
The federal agency in charge of the formal review of the Cape Wind project, the Minerals Management Service, is receiving public comments through Monday, April 21. It’s the last opportunity for ordinary citizens to outshout the Kennedys and other plutocrats who would rather keep subjecting Cape Cod waters to oil tanker spills than sully their viewsheds with matchbox-sized spinning blades (which is how they’ll appear from land).
The Cape-based citizens group Clean Power Now (“It’s not the view, it’s the vision”) has an e-mail form you can fill out in a few seconds to register your support. If you prefer to compose your own message, use this form from the project developers, Cape Wind. That’s how I beat the deadline with my comments, below.
My name is Charles Komanoff. I have worked professionally for nearly four decades as a policy analyst of, and advocate for, sustainable energy and transport. Personally, I long ago committed to low-impact, energy-efficient living; for example, since the early 1970s, I have bicycled some 75,000 miles, mostly for everyday travel in New York City, where I live, while driving only a fraction of that amount.
I first learned about the Cape Wind project in 2002. It appealed to me then as an elegant, low-impact, carbon-free solution to the Cape and Island’s electricity needs. Equally important, I saw Cape Wind as a test for environmentalists: Would we advocate for the idea of renewable energy but let personal convenience and privilege stand in the way of its practice? Or would we “harmonize our public positions with our private choices,” as one commentator put it, and pursue sustainable energy fully and aggressively despite the compromises this might require?
I identify fully and proudly with the latter position. Having stated my case in newspaper and magazine articles, open letters to fellow environmentalists, and earlier public comments (some of which are posted on my website), I will confine myself here to explaining why.
My first reason for standing with Cape Wind is because of professional ethics. As a frequent expert witness for state and local government bodies concerned with permitting nuclear power plants in the 1970s and 1980s, I made numerous representations that wind power facilities would one day be available to provide commercial quantities of economical electricity, and that I and fellow environmentalists would support their siting. I cannot now in good conscience stand silently while the fate of the largest such project proposed for the eastern United States hangs in the balance.
My second reason for standing with Cape Wind is my children and the world they will inhabit after I am gone. I am deeply concerned about the climate crisis and believe that the fate of the earth and its people depends on decarbonizing the American and other economies as quickly as possible. Cape Wind is both a literal piece of the solution and a symbol of the capacity of our country to seize the day and move quickly to low-carbon and zero-carbon energy sources. Addressing the climate crisis requires moving forward with Cape Wind.
My third and final reason for standing with Cape Wind is rooted in my career as a policy analyst. We economists — I am one — perpetually deal in trade-offs, balancing virtues and flaws, costs and benefits, “bests” with “goods.” Rarely, if ever, have I encountered a public policy matter in which the trade-offs were more clear than they are for Cape Wind. In physical, visceral terms, the trade-off is between tall but spindly structures whose full height — even from the nearest point on land — could be covered twice over with the width of a fingertip held at arm’s length, and the annual mining, shipping, and burning of a quantity of coal or oil large enough to cover the entire playing field of Boston’s Fenway Park to more than three times the height of the fabled Green Monster wall in left field. In a world with few true slam-dunks, Cape Wind stands out as one.
My lone qualm about the Cape Wind project is that the turbines will “put an end to the opportunity for people to experience an original view of a piece of the natural world in one of America’s most famously lovely coastal regions,” as naturalist Carl Safina put it. This is a loss to be mourned. And yet, Nantucket Sound hasn’t been a pristine place for centuries. It is already a very heavily humanized stretch of water, though no less beautiful for that. Indeed, it is this fact — that a humanized world need not be an ugly one — that shows us, now, the way forward.
Thoreau famously asked, “What good is a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” To have a shot at remaining tolerable for our descendants, our fragile, stressed, precious planet needs Cape Wind.