Alliance Campaigns Against Wind Farm In Nantucket Sound

By MANDY LOCKE

The leading critics of the 170-turbine offshore wind farm proposed for the shallow waters of Horseshoe Shoal made their way across Nantucket Sound to rally Vineyard opposition to the project.

"I've seen grocery stores take longer to get permitting in front of the Cape Cod Commission than it took for Cape Wind to get [a data tower permit] from the Army Corps of Engineers," said Isaac Rosen, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, to less than a dozen officials at the all-Island selectmen's meeting Wednesday night.

Mr. Rosen came armed with fighting words to bolster public and political opposition to the private energy project that would spread across 28 square miles of Nantucket Sound.

"It's a corporate land grab in the worst sense. A private developer is swooping down and sticking a shovel in something we all own and use," Mr. Rosen said, attempting to persuade Vineyarders that if the opposition fails, a large-scale wind farm project is a real possibility less than seven miles from Chappaquiddick.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has been a thorn in Cape Wind Associates's side for nearly a year. The grass-roots nonprofit, which pulls a board of directors and a membership base from dozens of fishing and boating groups, town governments and environmental groups, gained steam last fall when a handful of Cape Codders such as Mr. Rosen realized "a project far too ludicrous was actually gaining some currency."

Most Vineyarders have remained silent on the wind farm issue thus far. The alliance hopes to change that.

"People who cherish the Sound are going to need to rise up and scream," Mr. Rosen said. The alliance collected about 500 Island signatures on a petition protesting the wind farm this week.

The eight officials who turned out to hear the alliance's presentation did not exactly respond with outrage, but they did raise reservations about the wind farm complex.

"One thing that disturbs me most is them crapping up our backyard and charging us for the privilege of doing it," Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck said, noting that the renewable energy will not create a discounted bill for Cape Cod residents and Islanders.

"It would be one thing if the federal government said, ‘We'll give you free electricity for putting this here,' " Mr. Smadbeck added.

The alliance reports that best-case scenario predicts a monthly saving of 12 cents for the average household on Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard.

Others questioned the scope and speed of the project.

"Couldn't there be a rate of development limit? No town here would permit and allow 170 houses all at once. Can we demand a 10 per cent growth rate each year?" Chilmark selectman Frank Fenner asked.

Cape Wind's application in front of the Army Corps asks for permission to build 170 turbines. The plan represents the first of its kind in the United States, and until three months ago, it was a request for the largest offshore wind farm in America. Mr. Rosen reported that currently the largest off-shore wind farm in the world has only 20 turbines.

The residents of the Cape and Islands are experiencing first what Mr. Rosen believes every coastal community in America will face if the Cape Wind project proceeds.

"If you establish a precedent, the whole coastal United States is at stake," he said.

In the last month, no fewer than five companies have stepped to the forefront to build wind farms off the coast of America. Winergy, a private developer from New York, announced this summer that Nantucket Sound is but one of 21 sites on which it hopes to build.

All of these projects are in the chute, critics complain, before the United States government zones the outer continental shelf for renewable energy projects. In addition, no laws clarify how private companies can expect to occupy and use public water resources for the purpose of profit without compensation to citizens, Mr. Rosen complained.

While alliance leaders defend the waters off the coast of Massachusetts, they also hope to earn a seat at the table as Congress tackles the national management of offshore wind farms.

"Our group is primarily concerned with Nantucket Sound, but it would be disingenuous for us to throw off to another community the problems we're having here," Mr. Rosen said.

Nationally, the alliance, along with a handful of fishermen and marine businessmen, filed suit against the Army Corps in federal court last month questioning the agency's jurisdiction to authorize the project. Deliberations have yet to begin.

Currently the alliance also challenges a draft bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which would give the federal Department of the Interior the authority to grant property rights to private developers in the outer continental shelf - a provision that applies to liquid natural gas projects as well as wind farms.

The alliance, which has been criticized for its position, resents being called "anti-environmental" or "NIMBY - not in my backyard" elitists.

"We don't buy the argument that we are against renewable energy; we just recognize that there are legislative holes in the [permitting] process," Mr. Rosen said.