Offshore wind energy – Cape Wind vs Visual Impacts

(photo courtesy of Cape Wind – link in test below)

Cape Wind and Associates proposes to build a 130 –turbine, 420MW wind farm in the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound.  (http://www.capewind.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=24&page=1 )

There are a number of offshore wind projects in various stages of proposal development and permitting, but this project is the furthest along.  If it is permitted it will be the first offshore wind farm to begin construction in the United States.  The arduous permitting process began in 2001 and the project received a mostly favorable Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) last year.(http://www.mms.gov/federalregister/PDFs/NoticeofAvailabilityoffinalEISfortheproposedCapeWindEnergyProject.pdf )  However, the project has not been approved; it faces one last hurdle.

The remaining issue is concern about the “adverse visual effects to 29 properties evaluated as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places” [FEIS Federal Register notice link above].   Since the FEIS was published, the National Park Service has determined that these properties are eligible for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, which prompted the Minerals Management Service to open a public comment period.( http://www.mms.gov/ooc/press/2010/press0122.htm ) The public comment period ended on Friday and Department of Interior Secretary Salazar hopes to reach a final decision about the project in April, according to the Cape Wind website (linked to above).

The issue of aesthetic impacts is not new to offshore wind projects.  According to Cape Wind’s website the issue of visual impacts was the central point of opposition to a 1995 project in Denmark because citizens thought the turbines would disturb the coast and cause the coastal property values to fall.  That project was built and those fears have turned out to be unfounded.  (http://www.capewind.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=9&page=1 ).  Also, their website shows several simulations of what the project would look like from nearby shorelines and states that the project would appear one-half inch above the horizon from the closest beach.  (Click the previous link to see them.)

As a society we are going to have to decide how we want our future to be shaped and then move in that direction.  I know such things never will be unanimous, but if we want renewable power then people are going to have to consider looking at things like distant wind turbines that appear an inch or less above the horizon.  Is this is too much of a sacrifice for clean, renewable wind power which is more continuous that onshore wind and naturally matches up with times of peak demand?   My conclusion: I think this is a reasonable trade-off.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Offshore wind energy – Cape Wind vs Visual Impacts

  1. charlesupshaw

    The Cape Wind installation has many opponents who are worried about more than just the visual impacts lowering property values. Nantucket Sound was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in part because two Native American tribes claimed the installation would interfere with their religious activities. New York Times reported that the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes claim their ritual worship practice of greeting the sunrise would be affected. This is just another hurdle in a long line of hurdles that have held up the Cape Wind project, and another example to their inability to get the people of the are behind the idea of offshore wind power. This might not completely stop the installation, but it will further delay a project that was started nearly 10 years ago.

    I recently attended a symposium put on by the Ocean Energy Institute, which has the goal of promoting the development of substantial offshore wind for this country. George Baker spoke about his work on the Fox Islands Wind Project, and how encouraging and maintaining open dialogue with the residents of the island benefited the project immensely. Since the island inhabitants got all of their power from a mainland power plant, and had to have heating oil shipped in, the power utility stressed the savings that building the turbines would provide. By seeking public input from the start, and by explaining all of the benefits the wind turbines would provide, Fox Island Wind was able to George Baker spoke about his work on the get the entire community behind the development. I think this project was so successful, while the Cape Wind project continues to struggle, because the developers didn’t seek to plop a commercial scale onto the island. They analyzed the power needs of the island, and sized the turbines to fulfill the island’s need instead of trying to build a full commercial installation that could sell power back to the mainland. I spoke with George, and he said that the islander’s love the fact that they can see the turbines turning, then flip on a light switch, and know that the power for that light was being generated right in their back yard. I think that in order to get more of these projects off the ground, wind developers need to take the Fox Islands approach, and get the community excited and involved from the beginning. Full-scale, multi-million megawatt offshore wind installations will be built on this country’s shores eventually, but instead of fighting every community in court to build these wind farms, I believe that companies would probably end up saving time and money if they built smaller scale installations first. Building 5-10 wind turbines would not be nearly as daunting to the community, while providing a chance for the company to ‘test the waters’—both ocean waters, and the ‘waters’ of public opinion.

  2. alexoddo

    I agree. As a society we will need to compromise if we want to change our current energy habits. The energy usage habits that we follow as a society need to be recognized as flawed and changed for better. Changing these habits may not be comfortable for everyone, but we will all benefit from cleaner energy production.

    A societal need for renewable energy is driving the installation of this wind farm. If aesthetic impact is the only thing holding this project back, the need for capitalization on the reliable coastal wind needs to be made clearer to the citizens in the area. The energy needs of the residents in this area are going to be met through building a power plant of some sort, be it clean or dirty. If, for instance, a coal power plant was built in this area rather than the offshore wind farm, I’m sure the air quality impact would be much more difficult to address than the aesthetic impact of the wind farm.

    I believe the problem is mainly a resistance to change. Similar to what has happened recently in Logan County, Illinois, where residents were reluctant to the installation of the wind farm just as they were reluctant to the electricity being installed in the past – only to realize after the fact that the wind turbines are just another addition to the local scenery. Off-shore wind farms are a means for power generation that, if we are to move in a more sustainable direction for energy production as a culture, will become a more common part of our nation’s coast.

    The residents of the Nantucket community need to understand that they can set an example in their backyards. They can prove that green can be beautiful and that the addition to their horizon is a step toward a more sustainable future. In my opinion, the addition of a line of wind-mills to the horizon is hardly an eyesore. In fact, I think they would be pleasant addition to the horizon.

    Who knows? Cape Cod could be a tourist attraction in the future for being the first of many offshore wind farms in the United States.

  3. bhgully

    Wow, great dialogue everybody, keep it up!

  4. kentarosasamori

    I think it is natural to worry about adverse visual impact by offshore wind farm. When I went to Copenhagen last summer, I heard similar story about it there. People living near the farm concerned about the construction plan. But nowadays, the beach near the wind farm, Amager Strand Beach, became quite popular since it is clean and easy to go from the city. I also went there but have not heard any noise caused by turbines and I did not feel strange. So I personally think that the offshore wind farm there is quite successfully operated so that it can produce clean energy without harming scenery. (http://traveljapanblog.com/wordpress/2008/07/amager-strand-beach-in-copenhagen/)

  5. I agree as well. I’ve been keeping up with the ongoing coverage of the Cape Wind project throughout the past decade. I’m a native of Massachusetts with close ties to the Cape. It’s my favorite place in the world and I see no concerns, only benefits, to developing a wind farm offshore. It has been successful in Europe, and all of the environmental impact studies have revealed that it would not significantly affect marine life, fishing, boat traffic, or airplane operations.

    It will be interesting to see what headlines are made in the days ahead… U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to reach a decision about the project in April. Essentially, after all of the controversy, he will have the final say in the wind farm’s fate. This will happen in a matter of days! The verdict will either be a reflection of the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy projects, or a signal that they lack the support of them.

    Additional reading:

    http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100323/NEWS/3230318/-1/SPECIAL01

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