Interior Secretary should allow wind farm to proceed

Friday, February 5, 2010

LAST MONTH, the Energy Department released a study concluding that wind turbines could power 20 percent of the eastern electric grid by 2024. But if the nearly decade-long fight over a relatively small wind farm off Cape Cod is any indication, a big obstacle will be extreme not-in-my-back-yard-ism.

For nine years, the developers behind the Cape Wind project have jumped through regulatory hoops in hopes of erecting 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound, a near-ideal location -- shallow, protected from large waves, close to a large number of electricity consumers and blessed with plentiful wind. At every step, a group of nearby residents -- including environmentalists in the Kennedy family who maintain their complex on the shore of the sound -- have fought to keep the turbines out and their ocean views unobstructed. The latest objection comes from a couple of Native American tribes that prefer to conduct their sunrise greeting ceremonies without windmills in view and that claim that the shallows are a historical site worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who visited the sound on Tuesday, has given the parties until March 1 to come to an agreement; otherwise he will decide whether the tribes have a convincing case. Even if he gives the go-ahead, there are legal challenges pending.

No matter where you build in the eastern United States, you are likely to mar someone's view or disturb land that some group considers valuable. In this case, the plan's potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

The wind farm's developers aim to provide 75 percent of the electricity for the Cape and nearby islands. And the project would be an early test of wind power's feasibility, taking advantage of the area's rare natural setting to push costs down.

The tribes and other locals, on the other hand, would have to put up with windmills many miles offshore. Mr. Salazar should move Cape Wind along.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company