THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Perspective

Memo to Cape Wind foes: Enough already

The arguments have been studied, debated, and finally decided. There's only one thing left to do: Move on.

CHANGE IS COMING A recent view of Nantucket Sound from Hyannis Port. CHANGE IS COMING A recent view of Nantucket Sound from Hyannis Port. (AP Photo/Cape Cod Times, Merrily Lunsford)
By Tom Keane
May 23, 2010

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Dear Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (and all of your related hangers-on):

Let’s admit it. It’s never really been about the birds and the fish, has it? Neither has it been about air-traffic patterns, sacred Wampanoag burial grounds, or oil in the turbines’ transformers. Exploitation of a precious natural resource? Save us the big tears. Most of you have been doing that for years, fishing and boating in the water and building outsize eyesores perched far too close to the water’s edge. And surely your cries over the fact that Cape Wind Associates was a for-profit venture were contrived, too. (I mean, having oil billionaire William Koch, your cochair and a major funder, complain about someone making a dime off energy production is one audacious piece of hypocrisy, isn’t it?)

So what’s it really been about? The views. If they happen to be your views (in other words, if you’re one of the lucky folks situated on the beach looking out on the sound), they’re invaluable. If they’re not your views (which is to say, pretty much everyone else), then they have little, if any, value.

That’s why the vast majority of Massachusetts residents have no problem with Cape Wind’s proposed 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal. Even many residents of the Cape are OK with it. And no wonder. They’re not looking at your waters. You ask how they’d react if someone put a wind turbine next door to them, but they seem unmoved, deficient probably in aesthetics and, in all likelihood, a little jealous of your wealth and privileged location.

When Jim Gordon first proposed his wind farm almost a decade ago, federal officials expected the normal environmental review process would proceed apace, with a decision in no more than three years. One by one, state and federal agencies examined and dismissed the worries you voiced. Bird kills? Insignificant. Fishing and marine life? Minimal impact. Air traffic? The FAA said it could manage. And so it went.

The problem was that all of these were issues that could be measured and quantified. But a perfect view of the horizon is ineffable and unquantifiable. Sure, you can make the argument that obstructing a view hurts property values, but your opposition doesn’t hinge on something so crass. In any event, in places like Denmark, wind turbines have become tourist attractions, a kind of public art. My bet is the same would happen on the Cape. Just barely visible anyway, the distant turbines would bring in visitors. And because wind power is a carbon-neutral, guilt-free source of energy, the Cape would become a kind of eco-retreat, a place to indulge in luxuries like heated pools or extra air conditioning with no pricking of the conscience.

So when the numbers didn’t work for you, you went political. The Kennedy family leapt into the fray, with Ted pulling in chits from senatorial buddies. You got Mitt Romney on your side, as well as Bill Delahunt, former attorney general Tom Reilly, and even spanking-new Senator Scott Brown. They went about trying to subvert a process that was supposed to be fact-based, and they did quite well. New agencies got involved, new actors appeared, and ever more esoteric objections were raised. Delay, you knew, was your ally. Gordon had money, but not an unlimited amount, and if you could just stretch things out you might bankrupt him or perhaps just exhaust him.

But the stubborn cuss hung on. Ultimately, it took two elections (Deval Patrick and Barack Obama) and one death (Ted Kennedy) for both the state (in 2009) and the federal government (last month) to finally say enough.

Of course, you vow, it’s not over. There are still lawsuits to file, more political strings to pull, and perhaps even a little civil disobedience in the works. Your words are like clarion calls – “We will fight until we win” – as if this were some great crusade for the rights of humankind.

It’s not, though. Yes, views are wonderful things. But as oil spreads in the Gulf, families in Louisiana and West Virginia mourn their lost, and ice caps thin, your ardent opposition smacks ever more as irrational and petty selfishness. Virtue is on the other side, and it’s time to quit.

Tom Keane is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to tomkeane@tomkeane.com.

  • May 23, 2010 cover
  • may 23 globe magazine cover
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