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Cape Wind Can Start Leading the Way for Offshore Wind Power

Frances Beinecke

Posted January 23, 2009

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Two summers ago, I took a tour of a large-scale wind farm off the coast of Denmark. After the boat docked in the charming, tourist town of Nysted, I asked the mayor Lennart Damsbo-Andersen, what impact the nearby turbines had on the beach community. The mayor explained that when the wind farm was first announced, residents were very concerned about what the wind farm would do the town's charm and livelihood. But now, "We look back and wonder what we were so worried about."

I imagine homeowners and vacationers in Nantucket Sound will be saying the same thing in a few years. Last week, the Cape Wind project cleared its last environmental review. There is one more step before Cape Wind can start construction and begin repowering thousands of homes on Cape Cod with clean energy. Our new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has to issue the final "record of decision." I hope he does it very soon.

Cape Wind has been under thorough review for seven years. NRDC participated in that process, and we concluded that the project's benefits will clearly outweigh its costs. At this point, we have to move forward. The scientific data on global warming gets more alarming each week. America has to get serious about large-scale renewable power.

For many Americans, there is still a question mark about whether renewable power really works. We don't have many examples to point to, and as a result, things like offshore wind farms remains hypothetical proposals destined for some time off in the future.

But in Europe, people understand that renewable power is viable, available, and actually producing a great deal of their energy. European nations have embraced renewables and made them seem obvious, everyday solution. Denmark gets 20 percent of its power from renewables--the highest proportion in the world. Germany and Spain are close behind.

It was very inspiring for me to see these solutions for myself when I took a boat into the Baltic Sea. As we left the marina in Nysted, a light haze made it hard to see the 72 turbines from shore.  But when we drew closer, the white towers appeared in an arc of clean, gleaming lines. They were definitely big-bigger than I expected. But their soaring shape was graceful, not industrial.

Rocking on the waves, I was struck by the simple ingenuity of the project. From the quiet hum of those turbines, Denmark taps into a free and inexhaustible resource and generates enough electricity to supply 145,000 households. All while releasing zero global-warming pollutants.

Driving along the North Sea coast, I asked a taxi driver what he thought about the wind farm that sits offshore.  He answered, "It's better than pollution isn't it?"

Yes, it is. And isn't that the point? Any clean energy solution-here or in Denmark-must follow rigorous environmental standards. Wind farms have to be carefully sited. Yet we can not set the bar so high that it becomes harder to create renewable energy sources than it is to build traditional power plants.

Instead, we should promote one of the best solutions we have for combating global warming. Cape Wind is a good start. But we need many, many more similar projects. Hopefully, President Obama's commitment to clean energy will help us realize this potential.


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Bob WernerJan 27 2009 04:24 PM

NRDC would do well to be unamimous in support of Cape Wind. A senior staff member of NRDC has been opposed to the project and even wrote a NY Times op-ed piece in opposition. It appears to me that this is a NIMBY attitude; also the view of an uncle of the staff member, an otherwise respectable US senator. I cannot support this organization as long as there is such hypocrisy in those who purport to support the welfare of our planet. I have sent this comment to NRDC in response to their solicitations and gotten no response. I live on Cape Cod where there is overwhelming support for this project, but also strong oposition from important politicians and deep pocket summer residents.

Frances BeineckeJan 28 2009 06:42 PM

Thanks for your comment. Robert Kennedy, Jr is a tremendous champion in the environmental community, and I am grateful for his leadership. And like all members of the NRDC staff, he is entitled to his own personal opinions. In the case of Cape Wind, he is not speaking on behalf of NRDC, but is expessing his own views.

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