Nothing has caused more divisive and bitter controversy on Cape Cod in the past decade than Cape Wind’s proposal to place 130 commercial-scale, 440-foot-high wind turbines in 25 square miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound, just five miles off Cape Cod’s coast.
So is now a good time to designate sites for 24 more of these giant structures, this time less than three miles off the coast of Barnstable, Sandwich, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans?
That is the question before the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates on Sept. 21. The Cape Cod Commission has proposed such a plan. Here’s how this came about, and why the assembly should reject it.
In 2009, as part of a broad effort by Gov. Deval Patrick to promote wind energy development in the commonwealth, the Massachusetts Oceans Act became law. It changed existing law, in place since 1642, that had prohibited any “structures” in the waters within three miles of the coast controlled by the commonwealth by specifically creating an exception allowing for wind turbines to be located there.
The state’s Oceans Management Plan created under the law designated two areas in state waters off Cuttyhunk and Nomans Land as sites for 150 large-scale commercial wind turbines. And it proposed 100 more elsewhere in the state’s waters, at locations to be designated by the various regional planning agencies. The Cape Cod Commission was allocated 24 to site.
After duly declaring a moratorium, and after a year of careful in-house study and a few thinly attended public hearings, the commission carried out its assignment and designated its recommended sites for 24 turbines. This is the plan before the assembly.
As it happens, our neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard, through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), have been going through the same process. The MVC was allotted 17 turbines to site offshore; it, too, declared a moratorium and studied the matter.
But the MVC is considering an alternative the Cape Cod Commission did not, which is to permit no wind turbines in the Vineyard’s coastal waters for the next five to seven years.
Its reasons in support of this option are persuasive:
“The desire to obtain better information about resources and the impacts of wind energy development … before opening these areas up for development.”
“The fact that large areas are either being developed (i.e. Cape Wind) or are under consideration in federal waters “¦ such that if development takes place “¦ the resulting cumulative impact “¦ will be such that no additional development would be acceptable.”
“In general, the negative impact from development in state waters appears to be far greater than development farther offshore in federal waters.”
“The fact that no entities have expressed any interest in developing in these waters … means that not considering state waters for the next (five to seven) years should not have a significant impact on the general goal of developing renewable energy.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission was the model for the Cape Cod Commission’s creation; both entities have utilized the same Boston legal counsel since their founding. If not allowing commercial wind development within three miles of the island’s coast is a legally viable option for the Vineyard, it is for the Cape, too.
The Cape Cod Commission staff asserts that if this ordinance is not adopted by the assembly, the state will step in and write its own regulations and the Cape will have no control over these developments. That ignores the very specific language of the state’s Ocean Management Plan.
Would not the chance of the commission losing a court case on appeal be greater if a wind developer’s proposal for erecting turbines in an area specifically designated by the commission as suitable for such development were rejected by the commission?
If the Cape Wind project actually gets built, it will be the first offshore commercial wind project in America. Its impacts have up to now been speculative. Once built, the impacts will be real, and Cape Codders can evaluate them.
Until then, the Assembly of Delegates should exercise the option of doing nothing to encourage any more wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, and reject this ordinance.
Eric Turkington, a Falmouth attorney, represented Falmouth and the Islands in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for 20 years.