Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cape Wind, a misguided idea

Ken Burns’s “The National Parks: America's Best Idea is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone.”

The documentary film details “As America expanded westward, pioneers would ‘discover’ landscapes [‘from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska’] of such breathtaking and unusual beauty that written descriptions of the lands were sometimes assumed by people in the East to be works of fiction. Eventually, there emerged a belief that these special places should be kept untarnished by development and commerce so that they could be experienced by all people.”

Evidently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the person responsible for our National Park System, does not share that belief. He, and the Obama Administration, made the decision to proceed with Cape Wind Associate’s plan for the nation's first offshore wind farm to be located on the Horseshoe Shoal region in Nantucket Sound.

The green light was given to a private developer, Cape Wind Associates, the innovation of CEO Jim Gordon, who proposed the Cape Wind Project. Since 2001, Cape Wind Associates has spent more than $45 million. Jim Gordon has refused to disclose potential earnings. Nevertheless, Cape Wind Associates stand to gain hundreds of millions in tax credits, government subsidies, and price guarantees, making developers rich at the expense of electric ratepayers who must pay for these costs.

The reality is that Cape Wind Associates and Jim Gordon’s primary interest is not in green energy or protecting the shoal’s ecology, but in profiteering from the project.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown criticized Salazar's decision, saying it was "misguided.” He said, further, "With unemployment hovering near ten percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number predictions [Salazar predicts 1,000] we have heard from proponents of the project,"

This whole project from the beginning was misguided in the belief that eliminating atmospheric greenhouse gases is the singularly most important issue, without an awareness that the sea and its very delicate ecology is equally important.

Despite what any environmental impact study might conclude, the construction of a wind farm covering 24 square miles with 130 turbines, 440 feet tall, with its conduit embedded six feet under the sea floor to facilitate electricity to the mainland will distinctly -- for some species it may displace -- destroy a very delicate ecosystem and its abiotic constituents; it can take thousands of years for ecological processes to mature, and yet hastily destroyed with projects like Cape Wind. Furthermore, any claim that Cape Wind will ensure that natural sites could be restored if the wind farms were ever shut down would be preposterous.

Beyond the ecology, it is easy for folks like Secretary Salazar, who may have never experienced simple things like fishing, boating, or who may have never seen the breathtaking and unusual beauty of Nantucket Sound or its beaches, to perceive, as Ken Burns has expressed, that written descriptions are sometimes assumed to be works of fiction.

So, it is as naturalist Paul Brook wrote in “The Art of Seeing Nature: How much we see depends on what we bring to the encounter,” and in “The Pursuit of Wilderness: We shall never understand the natural environment until we see it as a living organism.”