The federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms planned across the Midwest, saying research is needed on whether the giant turbines could interfere with military radar.
But backers of wind power say the action has little to do with national security. The real issue, they say, is a group of wealthy vacationers who think a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts would spoil the view at their summer homes.
Opponents of the Cape Wind project include several influential members of Congress. Critics say their latest attempt to thwart the planting of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound has led to a moratorium on new wind farms hundreds of miles away in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Harnessing the wind is a clean and relatively inexpensive way to generate electricity without the troublesome byproducts of coal or nuclear power. But the vast collections of turbines--some of which are 40 stories tall--are derided by opponents as unreliable and unsightly.
Of the scores of projects proposed around the country, perhaps the most controversial has been Cape Wind. If approved, it will be the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
Most of the opposition focuses on the proposed location in a channel between Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, the bucolic Massachusetts vacation areas frequented by many high-profile celebrities, business executives and politicians.
Critics of Cape Wind include members of the Kennedy family, whose summer compound is on Cape Cod. Both U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have said the turbines would spoil the ocean views, threaten the local tourist economy and endanger migratory birds.
The younger Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist who has supported wind power in other parts of the country, said putting a wind farm in Nantucket Sound would be akin to placing one in the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park.
"This isn't the right location, for a number of reasons," Kennedy said.
Another opponent is U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who has tried several times to block the Cape Wind project. In a 2002 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Warner included a handwritten note saying he often visits Cape Cod, which he called a "national treasure."
But the project continued to move forward until late last year, when Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slipped an amendment into a military spending bill. The one-sentence congressional order directs the Defense Department to study whether wind towers could mask the radar signals of small aircraft.
Since then, at the Defense Department's behest, the FAA has been blocking any new wind turbines within the scope of radar systems used by the military.
Warner's amendment also appears to have reversed the government's position on the Cape Wind proposal. Both the FAA and the Air Force had previously signed off on the project, which would be located within miles of a missile defense radar system.
"This has nothing to do with wind," said Michael Polsky, president and chief executive officer of Invenergy, a Chicago company with projects in Illinois and Wisconsin that have been blocked by the government. "It has everything to do with politics."
Warner's office did not return telephone calls seeking comment. A spokesman previously released a statement saying the Defense Department study "ensures that Congress will possess as much information as possible on wind farms' impact on military operations."
So Warner will send the FAA on a fools errand and stiff arm sustainable energy developers nationwide so he and his fat cat buddies can have a lovely(er) time vacationing at Cape Cod. Talk about NIMBY taken to the extreme. Warner is fine with his constituents living next door to a wind farm but God forbid he have to vacation in the same zip code as one. The Kennedys and Warner may not know what they can do for their country but they certainly know what their country can do for them.