As the price of electricity and oil skyrockets across the nation, both individuals and companies are investigating ways to not only reduce energy costs but also decrease the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. In Massachusetts, Cape Wind Limited Liability Company (LLC) has proposed a project consisting of 130 wind turbines, each of which is 40 stories tall, to be constructed over a 24-square-mile area in Nantucket Sound.
Together, these wind turbines reportedly could produce 170 megawatts of electricity, nearly 75% of the average electric demand of the residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island. The “wind farm” would be the first ever to be built off the shore of the United States and, according to Cape Wind LLC, would provide clean, renewable energy capable of replacing 113 million gallons of oil per year. Yet many residents of the area have opposed the project. Why?
A new study by University of Delaware marine policy scientists Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton uncovers factors that govern public opinion regarding large offshore wind farms. The study, based on a detailed survey of approximately 500 residents, has been peer reviewed and will appear in an upcoming issue of Energy Policy. The survey confirms that a majority of nearby residents opposed the project, but the reasons are more complex than the assumed “not in my backyard” syndrome.
“The majority of local residents believe that the project will have negative impacts on marine life, the local fishing industry, and the aesthetics of ocean view,” says Firestone, who is an assistant professor of marine policy in the College of Marine Studies. “However, the draft environmental impact statement issued by the Army Corps of Engineers indicates that these impacts are likely to be minimal.”
Firestone adds that support for the project could most likely be enhanced if the public not only had a more complete understanding of both the positive and negative effects of offshore wind power to the environment, but also knew that the project had more oversight — either through federal rules or development by local government.
“Residents also were more accepting when the survey posited a larger vision for offshore wind — that their project would lead to 300 similar projects, totaling 300 times more impact, both negative and positive,” says Kempton, an associate professor of marine policy in the College of Marine Studies. “Understanding this larger vision increased support more than any other suggested possible changes to the project itself.”
The scientists believe that this increased support is due to the added significance that the project would have — that it could lead to important benefits to the country. They add that this is an important finding given the advantages that wind power has over fossil fuels in avoiding harm to the environment, human health, and climate change.
“The results of the study are especially timely in light of the ongoing debate concerning the merits of the Cape Wind project,” says Firestone. “Currently, a Senate-House conference committee has agreed to a measure that, if approved by the full House and Senate, would discard a judgment that is based on the project’s environmental, scientific, and technical merits and replace it with a political judgment.”
The measure, which is an amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill, provides the governor of Massa-chusetts with the power to veto the construction of a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. This would be the only area of federal waters where a governor would be able to make the final decision on any offshore renewable energy project.
Kempton notes that the statements quoted in the news from some members of Congress seem to be derived from some of the same misconceptions, and from lack of a larger vision, that was seen in the study’s survey respondents. The budget bill is slated to go before the full Congress for consideration when it reconvenes the week of April 24.
For more information about this study and other research being conducted at the University of Delaware on offshore wind farms, see http://www.ocean.udel.edu/windpower.
Firestone joined the College of Marine Studies in 2001. He also holds a joint appointment as an assistant professor of legal studies in the University of Delaware Legal Studies Program. Prior to earning his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was a lawyer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston and then for the State of Michigan, where he was an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources divisions of the Michigan Department of Attorney General.
A member of the University faculty since 1992, Kempton is an associate professor of marine policy. In addition, he is a senior policy scientist in the UD Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. He previously held positions at the University of California at Berkeley, Michigan State University in East Lansing, and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Kempton has written and edited several books on the interplay between personal and cultural values and individual and societal behaviors with regard to energy usage and other activities with environmental impact.