Tuesday, May 4, 2010

After Long Struggle, Cape Cod Wind Farm Wins Approval

After a vicious nine-year fight on Cape Cod, 56-year-old retired energy executive Jim Gordon has finally won approval of  his wind farm to be built in the iconic waters of Nantucket Sound. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed off on the project last week.

"We're trying to pioneer a new path to move America forward in obtaining cleaner energy, a healthier environment and putting people to work to harness the inexhaustible winds that we're blessed with off the Cape," he said.

It has been anything but easy.  Gordon's Cape Wind organization has spent more than $45 million -- most of it from Gordon's own pockets -- since 2001, when the project first sought a permit.

His opponents have vilified him over the years as a greedy corporate energy man pillaging the pristine waters of the Sound. They say he's interested, not in green energy, but the green of the U.S. dollar.  Gordon has refused to disclose potential earnings for his company; critics say Cape Wind stands to gain hundreds of millions in tax credits and subsidies.

Gordon's hair has gone from black to gray since the fight began. And while the Cape has debated the project, countries like China have built their own offshore wind farms, forging ahead of the U.S. in wind energy.

Gordon's opponents have come from the left and right. They have ranged from one of the most powerful senators in the nation's history -- the late Sen. Ted Kennedy -- to billionaire fossil fuel heavyweight William Koch. "I'm for wind energy," Kennedy famously said. "But we ought to do it right." The Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port will have a view of the 130 wind turbines, located several miles from the shore.

Koch, founder of the Oxbow Group and a resident of the Cape, sits on the board of Gordon's nemesis, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. He's reportedly contributed more than $1.5 million to try to stop Cape Wind. Koch and his Oxbow Group have accused Gordon of duping the region, saying the Cape had better prepare for skyrocketing electricity prices.

Cape Wind has said it can't guarantee lower prices, but the energy will be cleaner. The head of NStar, one of Massachusetts largest utilities, recently told the Boston Globe that electric prices could go up in coming years due to renewable energy.

That's another red herring from critics, says William Moomaw, a professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University's Fletcher School. "The prices won't skyrocket for the local people. That's just non-sense."  He applauded Gordon for not bowing out in the face of withering criticism: "Jim Gordon has to be one of the most persistent people who truly believes in the goal that he's set for himself. Most people would have pulled out long ago."

The wind farm turned into the most heavily vetted energy project in the nation, with dozens of public hearings and 17 state and federal agencies weighing in. The 130 turbines, spaced a third- to a half-mile apart, will cover about 25 of the 500 square miles of Nantucket Sound. They will stand more than 40 stories tall and provide up to 75 percent of the power to the Cape and islands.  Read more about Gordon and his wind project here.

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