Massachusetts Wind Farm Threatens More than 100,000 Birds

Published January 1, 2005

An Army Corps of Engineers report on the impact of a proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound reports that radar detected 127,697 birds and bats flying through the project zone during a recent two-month period. The new data have rejuvenated opposition in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to the project.

The proposed wind farm, covering 24 square miles and situated less than five miles from shore at places, would be the first such project on the U.S. East Coast. Within the wind farm, 130 turbines are proposed, each one reaching 328 feet, or nearly 33 stories, high. The Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high.

The project requires approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. Its final decision is expected in mid-2005.

Radar Documents Migration Season

According to the October 17 Boston Globe, Cape Wind, the company seeking to build the wind farm, called the Army Corps radar study misleading because the radar readings were taken during fall and spring migratory months during 2002. Readings during other times of the year would have shown fewer birds, said Cape Wind Vice President Craig Olmsted.

Opposition groups, led by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (APNS), argued that bird deaths during each year’s heavy migrating seasons cannot be ignored. With so many birds in danger, more study, at the very least, is needed before approving the farm, argued the alliance in a written statement.

“Nantucket Sound is one of the most important nesting, feeding, and migration staging areas on the east coast,” noted the statement. “The project is situated in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway, one of the main migratory bird paths for millions of song birds in spring and fall. The area also provides habitat for federally and state endangered species including roseate terns, piping plovers, and peregrine falcons. 500,000 sea ducks winter in Nantucket Sound, the highest concentration of wintering ducks in North America. Although it is unknown how many birds may be killed by the Cape Wind project, it is certain that habitat disruption and disturbance will occur. There may also be negative effects on fish and other marine life both during the construction and operational phases.”

Fishing, Boating Activities Threatened

Fishing and boating in the region also will be severely impacted by the wind farm, argue opponents. According to the APNS, “No fishing or boating group supports this project. Those who use these waters know the real effects this plant will have on the safety of navigation and fishing.

“The Sound is one of the richest fishing grounds on the east coast and a hugely popular recreation area,” continued the statement. “130 turbines over 24 square miles will present significant obstacles to fishing, navigation, and wildlife in all types of weather. Many local fishermen make up to 60 percent of their income on Horseshoe Shoal. This project would block off a productive fishing ground to a group of people already struggling to make a living; leading to why local and national fishing groups, including the 3,000-member Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, strongly oppose this project.”

No Benefit to Cape

APNS was particularly unhappy that electricity generated from the wind farm would do little good for the region’s consumers. Observed APNS:

“Cape Cod is already a power exporter. ISO New England is the regional power authority. Electricity produced on Cape Cod goes into the NEPOOL regional grid. Excess capacity in New England was 31 percent in 2003 and is expected to stay at 25 percent or higher through 2007 (Source: Platts NEWGen database). Cape Wind’s Web site states that ‘Only when Cape Wind is supplying more electricity than the Cape and Islands can use will some of the electricity go off Cape.’ Because Cape Cod does not have a power shortage, generated power will be sold to the regional grid and will not directly benefit the Cape.

“Developers would have the public believe the project will shut down oil-fired plants, but the project will always require other plants to stay online as backup. By nature, wind is intermittent. This adds complexity, because electricity produced on windy days cannot be stored for use on calm days. This unpredictability of wind means that ISO New England will not be able to dispatch this power without considerable backup or standby power.”

In response to renewed citizen input resulting from the Army Corps study, reported the November 24 Cape Cod Times, the Corps announced it would extend the public comment period on the proposed wind farm by an additional 45 days.

Democrats, Republicans Agree

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) voiced his opposition to the proposed wind farm directly to President George W. Bush. According to the November 11 Cape Cod Times, Romney told Bush and presidential advisor Andrew Card that the benefits of wind farm technology would not outweigh negative impacts to the environment, the scenery, and the economy of the region.

“If wind farms are going to be used to provide power for this nation, then one wind farm is going to lead to other wind farms,” Romney said. “Let’s not make the first one on the East Coast in Nantucket Sound.”

Opposition to the wind farm is bipartisan in the state, with the most vocal opposition to the project coming from Democratic U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy and Democratic U.S. Representative William Delahunt, in addition to Republican Governor Romney.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

The full text of the Army Corps of Engineers report is available online at

The statement of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound against the Cape Wind project is available online at

Additional information on the environmental and economic impacts of wind power is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ icon, and choose the Environment/Energy topic/subtopic combination.