Friday, December 16, 2005

If Not There...?

Highlighting the destructive and counter-productive nature of the NIMBY-ism that is so prevalent today has been a consistent theme of this blog since its inception. Nowhere are these contradictions more evident than for wind power projects, which while producing some of the cleanest energy in our entire national portfolio, nevertheless have been opposed by a variety of groups including prominent environmentalists. The Cape Wind project off Nantucket is the leading example of this, as demonstrated by today's New York Times op-ed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., one of the project's most vocal opponents.

Developing wind power is like exploiting oil or gas reservoirs in the sense that you have to go where the resource is, not where you wish it were. That means that wind developers do not have an infinite choice of suitable locations. In a country of 300 million people, and especially in the heavily populated Northeast, the chances of finding a prime wind location that won't affect someone--whether in terms of livelihood or aesthetics--are low. Mr. Kennedy suggests that Cape Wind go elsewhere, but his suggested alternative of deep water further offshore contradicts his own earlier argument about the high cost of offshore wind compared to land-based developments.

I think Mr. Kennedy also overplays the term "wilderness" in this context. The area in question may indeed be a national treasure, as he suggests, but it fails any common sense definition of wilderness, based on the real estate, commercial and transportation interests he cites as being at risk. Having recently passed through Santa Barbara, CA, which can make equal claims to natural beauty, I also have to question his estimates of lost tourism. It certainly wasn't apparent that Santa Barbara's economy has suffered from the offshore oil platforms that dot its coast, and wind turbines are arguably more attractive than oil rigs.

In any case, I continue to believe that in the current environment of high energy prices and concerns about pollution and climate change, the only reasonable basis for shutting down a project such as Cape Wind would be for its opponents to assemble a package of equivalent clean energy or efficiency projects, so that the net result of stopping Cape Wind isn't simply burning more coal in someone else's back yard. Mr. Kennedy should understand as well as anyone the importance of securing clean, domestic energy sources, given the recent involvement of his brother's company, Citizens Energy Corporation, with Venezuelan President Huge Chavez's "energy charity" to New England.

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