Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this review said Massachusetts property owners have rights to the shore only to the high-tide mark. They have property rights to the low-tide mark.
Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, By Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, PublicAffairs, 326 pp., $26.95
This is not your typical beach read. It isnt light. It isnt even fiction. It is, however, a genuine page-turner, and if it is true, it is also a laugh riot.
The story as presented could not be more entertaining. As authors Wendy Williams, a journalist, and Robert Whitcomb, a Providence Journal editor, recount in their strongly pro-wind book, Cape Wind, energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon realized in 2001 he could make money and improve the public welfare by using wind a plentiful, clean, and free natural resource on Cape Cod to generate power. He proposed placing 130 wind turbines out in Nantucket Sound. Naturally they would be visible, but only at a distance.
There was nothing wrong with his logic. New England lacks fossil fuels, pays exorbitant rates for its power, and is overly dependent on a diminishing quantity of natural gas. The Capes air pollution problem alone made alternatives worth considering.
But some begged to differ. Not coincidentally, these included people who owned beachfront property and sailed their yachts along Nantucket Sound: the Kennedys and their political hangers-on; journalist Walter Cronkite; historian David McCullough; and some unimaginably wealthy financial and industrial families, including the DuPonts and the Mellons.
Heres where it gets funny, because many of the anti-wind people identify themselves with liberal Democratic politics, publicly worrying about pollution, the ecosystem, our dependence on Middle East oil, and global warming. This bunch is greener, they would have you believe, than Kermit the Frog. But as Kermit knows, its not easy being green especially when the wind farm to be sited off Nantucket Sound might be visible from the beachfront mansions of these very same rich and famous.
An epidemic of Not In My Back Yard NIMBY (not in my backyard) protests followed. A lobbying group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Soundcq, was organized and well generously funded. That group took to describing the Sound as pristine, which it is not, and began loudly to mourn the potential demise of numerous species of wildlife which no scientist has confirmed.
Pro-wind advocates quickly saw the comic value of their opponents awkward position and took full advantage, demonstrating at one point costumed as yachtsmen and shouting, Save our Sound! Save our Sound! Especially the view from my compound! and Cape Wind makes my blue blood boil! Lets get our power from Middle East oil!
Nonetheless, Gordons project seemed destined to capsize until a deus ex machina appeared in the form of a lethal oil spill in Buzzards Bay, off Cape Cod. This got the attention of off-Cape newspapers, whose articles on Cape Wind alerted a larger audience. The local dispute soon became a national debate about issues of health, safety, political integrity, fair government, national security, and the necessity of developing alternative energy sources.
Slowly, the tide turned in favor of Cape Wind. And although the final verdict isnt in, it looks like the relatively poor, unconnected proponents will eventually win.
For sure, Cape Wind is gleefully entertaining. And about the big picture, the pro-wind authors are probably correct. But the absence of index and footnotes and the authors lack of objectivity raise questions about the books veracity. Had the authors done it right, Cape Wind might have served as a serious history as well as a warning to potential NIMBY activists in the future. Unfortunately, that cannot be said.
Nan Goldberg, a freelance writer and book critic, has written for the New York Observer, the Atlantic Monthly, and other publications.