Nantucket Sound Wind Farm Plan Divides Activists

Published January 1, 2006

A wind-powered water fight continues to intensify among rich and famous Northeasterners. The New England social elite consistently advocates industrial wind farms everywhere in the country except in their own backyard, and they are fighting intensely against a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

The proposed wind farm is sparking a civil war among professed environmentalists, taking center stage in a debate encompassing everything from fossil fuels to migratory birds to the aesthetic beauty of famously pristine seashores.

At issue is a proposed complex of 130 wind turbines, many of which will be taller than 40-floor skyscrapers.

Covering 24 square miles and negatively affecting the ocean floor, migratory birds, navigation, fishing, tourism, and the aesthetic beauty of Nantucket Sound, the proposed wind farm would not produce enough electricity for even the area’s beach towns. At best, it might generate half the energy requirements of Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod, according to the November 11 Greenwire.

Governor Opposes Plan

On November 10, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to delay a review of the proposed wind farm until the federal government draws up comprehensive guidelines applicable to all offshore wind farms. Romney’s letter mirrored the sentiments of local opponents to the proposed wind farm.

“These projects are typically much larger in scope than oil rig projects, are not necessarily subject to competitive bidding, and have significantly different impacts, benefits, and consequences than other types of projects,” wrote Romney to Interior Secretary Gale Norton. “Clearly, they require a separate and distinct regulatory program.”

“Wind power will always be [just] a niche contributor to the electricity supply,” said Ben Lieberman, air quality expert and senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “Beyond the obvious negative effects wind turbines have on aviary life and what used to be pristine wilderness, the wind blows intermittently and unreliably, which accounts for the high price of wind-powered energy.

“The environmental and economic costs of wind power will always keep it as a marginal energy source unless it becomes more heavily subsidized by taxpayers than it already is,” Lieberman added.

Police Separate Kennedy, Activists

While the Romney letter is the latest salvo regarding the contentious issue, it is far from the most dramatic.

In what the August 21 issue of the New Bedford Standard Times called “a strange battle of boats,” environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy hosted an anti-wind farm cruise in mid-August in Nantucket Sound. Arguing the proposed wind farm would be too environmentally damaging, Kennedy drew the ire of pro-wind environmental activist groups Greenpeace and Clean Power Now.

According to the August 18 Cape Cod Today, a Clean Power Now protestor shouted, “Hey, Bobby, you’re on the wrong boat!” Police had to keep the two boats apart after Kennedy challenged the Clean Power Now protestors to “Come over here and listen to what I am saying!”

Cronkite Slights Inlanders

Supporting Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, the Nantucket-retired TV news anchor, told a reporter, “The problem really is Not in My Backyardism, and it bothers me a great deal that I find myself in this position. I’m all for these [windmills] but there must be areas that are far less valuable than this place.”

As an example of a “less valuable” place, Cronkite suggested inland New England. Industrial wind farms have been proposed in places such as Vermont’s White Mountains, but local residents there vehemently oppose giant wind turbines blighting the area’s beautiful ridge tops.

Another politically connected Nantucket homeowner, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), called the wind turbines “gigantic public nuisances.” To Alexander’s credit, his opposition is not a mere exercise of Not in My Backyard. Alexander has described wind power noise as “a brick wrapped in a towel tumbling in a clothes drier on a perpetual basis.”

Principle or Self Interest?

On the other side of the issue, a New Bedford Standard Times house editorial criticized Kennedy’s theatrics. “Robert Kennedy, once considered an environmental lawyer with principal [sic], has sold out to the well-heeled ‘Not in My Back Yard’ version of environmentalism, which is really not environmentalism at all,” wrote the Times.

“Robert Kennedy sided with the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, funded by wealthy property owners who don’t want to look at wind turbines,” the Times added. “Robert Kennedy has squandered his reputation as a real environmentalist to prevent any change to his own back yard.”

“It is rather ironic to see self-proclaimed environmental activists bickering with each other about wind power,” observed Lieberman. “This just goes to show that no person, group, or activist viewpoint can claim an exclusive title of being ‘environmentalist.'”

Dennis Avery ([email protected]) is director of the Center for Global Food Issues.

For more information …

Environment & Climate News has often reported on the “civil war” taking place among environmental activists over wind farm proposals. See, for example,

“Wind Farm Proposed for Vt. National Forest,” October 2005,;

“Wind Farms Costly for Kansans, New Study Finds,” May 2005,;

“States Take Widely Varying Stands on Wind Power,” February 2005,; and

“Windmills Ruining Scenic Views, Producing Killing Fields,” September 2004,