To Islanders, the debate over the Cape Wind plan for Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound was a curiosity, except to fervent wind energy enthusiasts.
Proposals to locate wind turbine installations in Buzzards Bay, some in the western reaches of the bay visible from Cuttyhunk Island, some of them close to the North Shore of Naushon Island stimulated even less concern among us. Cuttyhunk and Naushon are parts of the Elizabeth Islands, which is Gosnold, the sixth Dukes County town.
There was some disdain here for the not-in-our-backyard arguments made against Cape Wind by waterfront property owners in the Hyannis/Hyannisport area and by business interests who complained that the wind farm’s aesthetic assault would diminish the shorefront owners’ enjoyment of their property and the desirability of the Cape as a tourist destination. There was no concern at all for those on private Naushon or sparsely populated Cuttyhunk whose enjoyment of their waterfront might be diminished.
The arguments of fishermen, commercial and sport, of bird lovers, of sailors and of all the others with some sort of stake, however loosely defined, in Horseshoe Shoal and Buzzards Bay attracted few adherents. Those arguments were familiar to Island environmentalists, but neither enlightening nor compelling from the typical Vineyarder’s vantage point.
That’s all changed now. Massachusetts has plans to promote and control industrial development, including wind farms and mining, in nearshore areas around the Vineyard and greater Dukes County and for control, if it is not asserted by local towns and the region, over even some land-based wind turbine installations.
Now, Islanders have been politically electrified – no fossil fuels needed. Under the banner of local control, we demand ultimate authority over the disposition and development of such commercial, industrial enterprises. The state has ceded some authority to the towns and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to define the acceptable scope of such developments, but not the veto power Islanders want. Friday, an Island delegation determined to wrest authority from the state met with Ian Bowles, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs who is determined to push the state into the national forefront of renewable energy, as well as the development of the technology on which such carbon-free energy sources depend. The Islanders came away dissatisfied with the concessions Mr. Bowles has been willing to make.
For many of those who have organized the effort to gain maximum local control over wind energy projects in nearby state waters, the superficial argument is that Islanders should decide what affects them. In fact, the underlying motivation is the determination to block developments that will change what we see and hear when we look out from the shore. It is a not-in-our-backyard argument.
And, that’s exactly the right argument for Islanders to make. The calculations that must form the foundation for a decision on such things as wind energy developments on or near the shores of Dukes County are tricky and crucial. As this page has argued repeatedly, clean, lovely, wild places are to be preserved and protected, not developed. This is especially true of wild places that serve large populations as resources for recreation, renewal, and adventure. Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound and the ocean reaches south and west of Gay Head are such places. Should Islanders endorse the development of wind energy industry in such places, in exchange for renewable energy contributions that the most enthusiastic supporters of carbon free power acknowledge will be extremely modest, even looking decades ahead. They should not.
Industrial producers of electricity in the developed countries are investing huge sums to clean the emissions from their power plants. Massachusetts is already a leader in cleaner energy production, because state environmental laws have hastened a switch from oil to gas for electricity generation. In the aggregate, worldwide investment in new technologies to improve their old technology plants, without including government incentives such as production tax credits and innovation grants directed at these non-renewable technologies, dwarfs worldwide expenditures to develop efficient and substantial wind energy generation. Wind is hot now, but competition for clean and more easily scalable power creation is likely to dim rather than brighten its future. Kept clean, wild, and free from development, the bays, sounds, and ocean waters around Dukes County will retain their premium value.
Then there is the economic argument. The beauty of the ocean shore is an asset of the Vineyard economy. We comfortably and repeatedly value it as priceless. In fact, there may be a way to establish a dollar valued on the view from Gay Head or on a sail from Edgartown to Nantucket when the sailor has the brief sense of being out of sight of land, or on the solitary lobsterman pulling his pots early on a June morning a mile or two south of the Vineyard, or on the pleasure a summer beachgoer takes in contemplating the vacant expanse of ocean that connects her to the coast of Africa. But, whether there is or not, it is beyond a doubt that the dollars and sense value of wind farms in Dukes County waters will compare unfavorably to the result.
That’s why residents of the Vineyard, making their own insular cost-benefit analysis, recognizing the uncertainties facing wind energy producers and the competition from other renewable energy sources, as well as the potential for technological advances in the use of non-renewables for electric generation, and then recognizing the immense value of what they have in their backyard and offer annually to their visitors, say not here. It’s a bad deal.