Thursday, November 22, 2012

NIMBY Politics And The Energy Boom


The deck of my ancestral home provides a spectacular view of Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands. With a modest pair of binoculars you can scan the channel that leads to Woods Hole on the other side. To the South runs the long coastline of the Eastern Atlantic, with all its glaciated coves and inlets, sand bars and estuaries, honkey tonk beach towns, and deep water harbors.

On the other side of the Elizabeths (owned almost entirely by the Forbes family) lie the island playgrounds of Nantucket, once the center of whaling in the Western World and now summer capital of the truly rich, and Martha's Vineyard, home to the historic African American summer colony of Oak Bluffs and vacation spot for the merely well off. Nantucket Sound, a narrow channel marked by a relentless west wind, lies between them. Along the northern edge of the sound, at the apex of the triangle formed the Nantucket to the southeast and the Cape along the northeast, the bottom rises up to form  Horseshoe Shoals, with an average depth of less than 10 feet. It's a nightmare passage for sailors but a perfect place for a wind farm.

After a 10 year, 10 million dollar struggle with more litigation than Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the Cape Wind project has received both the necessary Federal and state permits. Upon completion the project will supply enough electricity to light 3/4 ths of Cape Cod every year, will offset more than a million pounds of carbon dioxide annually, and may even allow for the closing of the oil burning Canal Generating Plant, which has been the site of two damaging oil spills from marooned tankers bring transporting fuel to the plant. The project will cost 2.5 billion dollars, and bring an untold number of jobs during its construction.

Every conceivable argument was attempted in opposition. It would kill the birds. It would kill the fish. It would be an eyesore. It was the right project in the wrong place. Its was a just a get-rich-scam by a bunch of evil industrialists. In an alliance that defied ideology but revealed their own self important sense of entitlement, figures as diverse as Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney, Bill Koch and Walter Cronkite joined forces in opposition. What most of these folks have in common is that the project will be visible from their waterfront estates. Cape Wind enjoys the support of nearly four fifths of Massachusetts residents, as well as the current two term governor, Deval Patrick, who apparently isn't rich enough (yet) to afford a his own place on either island.

I join you in your enthusiasm for an American energy renaissance. If it puts people back to work, especially the sorts of folks who lack the degree of education required for other high paying jobs, and frees us from  petrotyranny of  the mullahs and sheiks, that's fine with me. At this juncture the risk benefit ratio (obvious economic and geopolitical benefits on one side, undetermined health and environmental (see the above) hazards on the other seems acceptable. That might change of course, over time. The newly reelected president, if he is to be successful, will disappoint his supporters in a variety of arenas and surprise his opponets  in others.  I'm not a supporter of hysteria, just of caution.


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