Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wind Energy in Massachusetts and the Mashpee Wampanoag

I've been following the tortured non-progress of the Cape Cod wind energy project (called "Cape Wind") for a number of years. It seems to me something of a bellwether as to whether or not wind energy has a large-scale future in the US.

The most recent development in Cape Cod reinforces my sense of how difficult it can be for a democratic government to effect deep changes -- except when it does so quite slowly (the project started in 2001 and may still never happen).

The new development is this: after clearing a number of hurdles (including the opposition of the Kennedy family and other high-society types on the islands), the project is now being strongly opposed by native American tribes in Massachusetts who argue that it (1) will disrupt their their sunrise ritual and (2) may harm artifacts that are buried under Nantucket Sound (the project's location).

Juliet Eilperin has the story in last Monday's Post, here. If it's built, Cape Wind will be the first offshore wind project in the US, and it will cover 25 square miles with 130 turbines.


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Because of the opposition from the Mashpee Wampanoag and Aquinnah tribes, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is on the hook to make a decision this spring as to whether the federal government will give a necessary regulatory approval. Here's Eilperin:

Salazar said that although his department is trying to broker a deal between the tribes and Energy Management, the company seeking to build the farm, "I'm not holding my breath for a consensus." And if the two sides cannot resolve their differences, he said, he will do it himself by April. The venture stands as a critical test of whether the Obama administration, which views investing in renewable energy as key to reviving the economy and combating climate change, can launch the clean-energy revolution it has promised voters. Ian Bowles, the Massachusetts energy and environmental affairs secretary, called the Cape Wind project "symbolic of America's struggle with clean energy. Its symbolism has risen above the number of megawatts."
Wind energy currently accounts for less than 2% of America's supply. If I'm not mistaken, T. Boone Pickens has backed off of his grand ambitions for wind energy in the middle of the country (why -- too expensive?) even after he did that huge marketing roll-out.

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The issue of environmentalists wanting the "good" of wind energy versus the native tribes wanting the "good" of respecting their rituals and artifacts is a really tough one.

Here's an interesting tidbit: Nantucket Sound (where the project would be built) is on the National Register of Historic Places. That is the first time I've heard of a body of water on the National Register -- are Virginia waterways like the James and the Chesapeake on it?

One consolation for Salazar -- he's not alone: my post last October about the wind energy controversy in France is here.

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