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by Jesse Kornbluth, AARP The Magazine, June 2007|Comments: 0
We fled the Hamptons for a million good reasons, and now we go to Nantucket. We rent at the end of the island, in a village so small and underpopulated, it looks like a stage set for Our Town. The beach is also shockingly empty, and when we look out, so is Nantucket Sound. Pretty? Try exquisite.
If the unlikely alliance of Senator Ted Kennedy, environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, historian David McCullough, and the richest, most conservative residents of Cape Cod have their way, the body of water between the Cape and its southern islands will remain virgin—that is, Jim Gordon will never be allowed to erect 130 giant wind turbines in the Sound.
Wait. That doesn't track. The Kennedys are champions of clean, economical fuel—and when it comes to "green" energy creation, wind is right up there with solar. What are they doing on the same side of anenvironmental issue with conservative Republicans and a few hundred elite homeowners?
The answer's shockingly simple: if the turbines ever dotted Nantucket Sound, the Kennedys and their Cape neighbors would actually see them from their homes and sailboats. And that, by the evidence of Cape Wind, is all it takes for these unlikely allies to oppose a project they'd probably endorse—somewhere else. Oh, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound trotted out any number of plausible reasons, from visual pollution to concern for fish and fowl. But by the authors' account, rationality was just cover. For Williams and Whitcomb, the opposition is a metaphor for a larger issue: who owns America—the people or a plutocracy that buys political influence at the first sign of provocation?
It's not as if wind power makes no sense for New England. Forty percent of its electricity is produced by natural gas, and with gas prices rising and likely to keep on doing so, one cold winter could make even the middle class feel poor. And there is wind aplenty—not just mild ocean breezes but serious gusts that could send turbine blades spinning and electric power inexpensively surging.
Cape Wind tells a number of stories. It's a capsule history of real estate development on Cape Cod. A sprint through the business of electrical power in New England. A primer on wind power. But mostly it's the story of media and politics: how the Cape Cod newspaper, a well-subsidized lobbying effort, Ted Kennedy's love of sailing, and Governor Romney's desire not to offend the big oil money he'd need for a presidential campaign came together to kneecap a brave entrepreneur.
The politics is nasty indeed. You know those blue-state Massachusetts liberals, drinking latte and driving Volvos? They're hard to spot in these pages. When he was running for governor, Romney railed against "dirty" electric plants, giving hope to Cape Cod environmentalists; soon after he was elected, he turned against wind energy in Nantucket Sound. Teddy Kennedy refused to meet Jim Gordon and covertly sponsored a congressional bill that would have damaged only one turbine field—Gordon's. (John Kerry, for his part, ducked the controversy.) Meanwhile, behind the scenes, lobbyists and public relations tacticians banked six-figure salaries.
"In my 30 years as a journalist, I had never seen such a brazen attempt to obstruct the democratic process," Williams writes. But that's also the good news: "Unfortunately for project opponents, their behavior was often so blatantly over-the-top that, with each bungled effort, more people took notice."
Jim Gordon's been chipping away for six years now. It's not certain that he'll ever prevail. Too bad the emotion that Cape Wind is certain to generate in fair-minded readers can't be tapped and converted into energy—I know that, reading these pages, I could have lighted a city.
Jesse Kornbluth is the editor of HeadButler.com, a cultural concierge service that recommends books, movies, and music. He has published seven books and has written for many major magazines.
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