Cape Wind: NIMBY vs. The Bottom Line

windAfter a delay and ongoing controversy, the Minerals Management Service, part of the Department of the Interior, has released a draft environmental impact statement that gives a green light to the Cape Wind project, pending public comment. Sited for the Nantucket Sound, 4.7 miles off the Cape Cod coast, the proposed wind farm would consist of 130 3.6-megawatt wind turbine generators with the capacity to produce about 468 megawatts.

The environmental impact statement declared the construction and operation of the wind farm to have a “negligible” or “minor” impact in every way, save only for the the category of “visual resources,” on which it was deemed to have a “moderate” impact. These “visual resources” are best enjoyed from the affluent, preppy stomping grounds of New England’s elite, including the Hyannis Port estate of Sen. Ted Kennedy. The the project has faced adamant NIMBY-ism since its initial proposal in 2001.

An article in The Wall Street Journal points out that a similar offshore wind farm proposal was sunk off Long Island Sound last year, not because of NIMBY-ism but because of simple economics. While the recent EIS is a step in the right direction, it still faces staunch critics and the difficult economics of offshore wind.

Offshore wind is a largely untested market, especially as compared to inland wind. Between the added costs of bigger, more robust turbines and oceanic transmission lines, The Wall Street Journal estimates that offshore wind costs about 25 percent more than onshore wind. Uncertain government subsidies make wind energy that much riskier.

Still, the economics of fossil fuel energy are working to wind’s advantage. Cape Wind’s official site points out that when the project was first proposed, oil cost $20 a barrel and natural gas cost $3 per million cubic feet. Today oil is up at $100 a barrel and natural gas has risen to $10 per million cubic feet. Maybe the winds are changing after all.

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