When Cape Wind was first proposed more than a decade ago, it was touted as the largest renewable energy project in the United States, with 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound churning out enough electricity to provide power for 200,000 households. For environmentalists, the wind farm represented the dawn of a green industry in the United States.
That, of course, is not how it worked out. While Europeans have embraced wind power and turbines as an accepted part of the landscape, many homeowners on the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket resisted, resulting in lengthy legal hurdles before the project could ever get underway.
Now, due to both controversy and mismanagement, Cape Wind appears all but dead. And, yes, its demise is a blow to Massachusetts’ ambitions to harness the power of wind — but it should, by no means, be a death knell.
State officials should take this opportunity to regroup and consider a deep water wind farm that will allow the Commonwealth to remain a national leader in renewable energy — and keep its competitive edge.
The two major power companies that agreed to purchase three-fourths of the project’s power at above-market rates, Northeast Utilities and National Grid, terminated their contracts when Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon missed a critical Dec. 31 deadline to obtain financing, start construction, or put up more of his own money to keep the $2.5 billion project alive. In a state with already outsized energy prices, these purchase agreements were coups, and yet Gordon and his team were never able to secure more than $1.5 billion in financing.
No doubt that was, in part, because of the vocal opposition, which ranged from working-class retirees to the Kennedys and all of whom argued that, at only five miles offshore and turbines as tall as 420 feet high, the wind farm would disrupt a seascape that serves as a resource for all. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmental attorney, urged developers to build much farther offshore in order to safeguard the shoreline for fishermen and tourists.
And, indeed, one of the lessons of Cape Wind is that any successful wind farm of its scale must head many miles south of the Cape and the islands. Luckily, from the example of Europe, we already know that deepwater wind farms can often produce exponentially more power and are likely to be the future of this technology. And already the federal government has begun to auction off leases for vast areas of water at least 12 nautical miles off the Vineyard. A Rhode Island-based firm, Deepwater Wind, has already won one lease. This will be a project to watch as the next iteration of Cape Wind emerges in Massachusetts.
Cape Wind will not lead the US energy revolution. But its misfortunes should not block an industry that the nation and particularly Massachusetts — with few other sources of energy — needs for a truly renewable future.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of financing Gordon was able to secure as $1.5 million.