Nantucket Sound Wind Farm Gets Warm Island Reception
By Chris Burrell
This material is copyrighted by the Vineyard Gazette and may not be reprinted or disseminated in any fashion without written permission.
Imagine cutting your electric utility bill and reducing
greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
That's the sales pitch from a group that wants to build the
country's first offshore wind farm on a 28-acre patch of Nantucket
Sound called Horseshoe Shoals, nine miles off the Vineyard and just four
miles at its nearest point to the Cape.
Tuesday evening, the Martha's Vineyard Commission sponsored an
informational session downstairs at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown
where representatives from Cape Wind Associates explained their project
and fielded questions and comments, nearly all of them positive. More than
20 people attended.
Surprisingly, the prospect of 170 wind turbines spread across the
sea, 426 feet tall at the tip of their rotor blades and visible from
State Beach, provoked little protest on the Vineyard aside from two fishermen
and a recreational boater skeptical about the effects of such a large scale
The project, modeled after offshore wind farms in
Scandinavia, will require state and federal review before getting approved. An
environmental report is still being prepared and won't be ready for 10 months.
But most Islanders who turned out this week, while curious about
the visual impact, were more focused on the environmental benefits that
such a project promises.
"It is my vision that the Vineyard make a commitment to increasing
the use of renewable energy," said Kate Warner, a member of the
Martha's Vineyard Commission and the West Tisbury representative to the Cape
Light Compact, an association of 21 Cape and Island towns advocating lower
energy costs and conservation measures.
Ms. Warner, more than just introducing the main speakers for the
evening, framed the wind farm proposal in terms that went beyond the
price of electricity.
"With the effects of global warming and the trend toward more
extreme weather," she said, "parts of the Island may be
underwater." The key, according to Ms. Warner and the Cape Wind advocates, is to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions created in large part by power plants burning
coal, gas and oil.
Wind-powered turbines, by contrast, could produce electricity in breezes as
light as seven to eight miles an hour. At 25 miles per hour,
the wind could generate an average of 170 megawatts a day, or 420 megawatts
at peak production. Peak demand on the Cape and Islands is about 440
megawatts in the summer, according to the Cape Wind figures presented Tuesday.
Sponsors of the project said Horseshoe Shoals is the ideal location, chosen
for its shallow water - 12 to 50 feet in depth - its
favorable wind conditions and its proximity to the Cape Cod power grid.
The $500 million to $700 million project would be bankrolled by
private interests which include Energy Management Inc., a Boston group
that has developed other power projects; Wind Management LLC, based in
Yarmouth, and Environmental Science Services Inc., a Wellesley consulting firm.
"This is the right project at the right time in the right
place," said Craig Olmsted, vice president of projects at Cape Wind.
In simulated photographs, meant to show how the wind farm would
appear from the shores of the Vineyard, the turbines were barely
visible on the horizon. Donald Sibley of West Tisbury raised his hand to say he
admired the sculptural beauty of the turbines.
"I would suggest you have a photograph that makes them as visible
as can be," he said.
"And don't paint them to blend in," said Linda Sibley, a
member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission. "Make 'em honest. Paint them
Mr. Olmsted said that in Europe, offshore wind farms are actually
tourist attractions. John Abrams of West Tisbury offered a story to
illustrate how people's initial reluctance can turn into admiration.
"In 1978 when we put up a wind generator at Allen Farm,
townspeople were not very happy," he said. "But there were more
complaints when we took it down. People had grown to love it. They're beautiful to look
But aside from aesthetics, there were questions about how 170
turbines spread at one-third to half-mile intervals would affect
navigation and marine life. Mr. Olmsted pointed out that the wind farm would be
sited outside shipping channels, ferry routes and flight paths.
But the turbines would be smack in the middle of rich fishing
grounds, said Chilmark fisherman Chris Murphy, who waited until late in
the session before striding to the front of the room.
"That's where the fish grow up, a natural, wonderful habitat for
all sorts of wonderful stuff," he said. "It's one of the
world's great natural grow-out areas. The idea of putting anything on them seems
bizarre to me."
Mr. Murphy urged Islanders and Cape residents to demand that the
project be reviewed by both the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the
Cape Cod Commission. Currently, the wind farm will be subject to review by
state environmental agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Mr. Olmsted said that while the impact on fish is unknown, it could
be be positive. Offshore drilling rigs and turbines have acted as
"fish aggregators" elsewhere, he said.
Tom Zinno of Oak Bluffs questioned the durability of the turbines,
their visual impact and the effect on recreational boating. "These
things are monstrous," he said. "On any given day, there are
thousands of boats in that area."
Others questioned how the proposed wind farm might realize savings
on electric bills. Mr. Olmsted conceded he had no simple answer to that
question. While holding out hope that their cheap source of energy
would drive down prices across the region, he said that energy pricing is
George Schiffer of Tisbury asked whether Cape Wind had considered
Noman's Land as a site for their operation. Mr. Olmsted said his group
had looked at the area but the presence of unexploded ordnance "makes
pile driving an adventure."
This material is copyrighted by the Vineyard Gazette, and may not be reprinted or disseminated in any fashion without written permission.
This information was last updated on 8/2/2011