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Legacy Content / ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Obama Vacations In Clean-Energy Battleground

Activists Hope The President's Trip To Martha's Vineyard Will Shine A Light On A Controversial Wind Farm

August 19, 2009

With President Obama vacationing in Martha's Vineyard next week, local activists plan to soak up the national spotlight as the first family soaks up the sun.

Nantucket Sound, where plans to build a 130-turbine wind farm have sparked heated resistance, has become ground zero for a larger debate about offshore renewable energies. Whether the wind farm -- the first of its kind in the nation -- is a catalyst for similar projects or an impediment could be settled if the president takes sides.

Related Story: "Will The Winds Favor Cape Wind?" (2/21/09)

 

Clean Power Now, one of the groups spearheading support for the wind farm project, hopes the president will do just that. They're tapping their grassroots -- the approximately 165 members who live on Martha's Vineyard -- to query the president about the issue and have been in contact with members who work at ice cream shops, farms and other local establishments they hope Obama will visit.

"We are hoping for him to speak out about this issue specifically because of the national significance of this," said Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now. The project, she went on to add, "could literally jump-start a new industry in this country. Once we get the first one out there, it's going to open up the gates."

The Alliance To Protect Nantucket Sound, a group that opposes the wind farm, says it too will "definitely have a presence" throughout the first family's vacation. "It's an opportunity for President Obama to understand firsthand how special Nantucket Sound is," said Audra Parker, chief operating officer and executive director of the alliance.

Similar projects have been proposed up and down the Northeastern seaboard since this one was introduced in 2001, but Cape Wind remains furthest along in the permitting process. The political landscape surrounding the wind farm is knotty, however: Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy has opposed Cape Wind nearly since it was proposed, and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) is also against it.

Obama has spoken in favor of wind energy as a whole, both as a candidate and president. At an event honoring Earth Day in April, he outlined the country's first-ever program to authorize and regulate offshore projects to generate electricity from wind turbines, waves and ocean currents. He hasn't, however, talked directly about the Nantucket project.

So what happens if the president enthusiastically embraces Cape Wind? That will be more than just music to Hill's ears. It will mean potential funding for her group's project. "It would send a signal to the investment community," Hill said. "If the president is going to be talking specifically about the project, it has the potential to launch an entire new industry."

Laurie Jodziewicz, an offshore wind expert at the American Wind Energy Association, said that the Interior Department's decision, slated to be released any day now, is expected to come back positive given that previous environmental reviews have been favorable.

For their part, the plan's opponents point to a new oceanic zoning policy the administration announced in June that will designate which areas of the ocean could be developed. Cape Wind should, at the very least, "be put on hold until this plan is put into place," Parker argued. (That won't happen until December, at the earliest, according to a White House memo.) But even if the area is approved for development, "there have been multiple projects proposed in better locations," she said.

AWEA's Jodziewicz maintained that if the project is delayed further or scrapped entirely, it would be a significant setback for offshore wind in general. "A huge amount of money has been invested, and Cape Wind developers have really put themselves out there as being the test case," Jodziewicz said. "To put the idea out that they wanted to do this, and not being able to make it through that process -- that would be a step back."

It's a case activists hope to make when the president arrives on Sunday. "I would love to be able to sit down with him for five minutes and say, 'President Obama, what you're hearing are proposals that are 10 years away,'" Hill said, and "'nothing will be built in your first administration'" if Cape Wind fails.

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