The evolution of one wind farm opponent

The Cape Codder, January 23, 2004

Jim Gordon always is working the room when he's on the Cape.

The man who wants to build a giant wind farm in Nantucket Sound may spend lots of money lobbying in Washington. But still, he seeks - maybe needs - the approval of Cape Codders.
If Gordon believes an opponent is wielding an untruth to defeat his plans, a look of childlike incredulity and hurt crosses his face.

Maybe it's because Gordon has roots on the Cape, with a family home in Yarmouth, the town that would be connected by underground cables to the 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal.

Maybe it's because this self-made and philanthropic entrepreneur believes his quest is driven by far more than expanding his bank account. He has enough money to retire at 50, with a new child and growing family.
It's not ego that drives Gordon as much as a quixotic conviction he can turn the course of history, provide a shining example of how America can lead the world in clean, renewable energy.

It's no wonder that Dan Wolf is so intrigued by Gordon. Wolf himself is a self-made and successful businessman who has applied uncanny skills and drive to realize his dream of a regional airline. Now Cape Air is expanding to Guam and Micronesia, where Wolf was visiting last week to iron out final details of his new venture halfway around the world.

In many ways, Wolf inculcates all the values, history and experience that represent the perfect juror for Gordon. If this prototypical Cape Codder and exceptional businessman who somehow finds the time and heart to be engaged in myriad nonprofits across the peninsula would approve the wind farm ... Well then.

Unfortunately for Gordon, Wolf was as far away from support as a Cape Codder could be when the plans were first made public. Behind the scenes, Wolf was instrumental in a scathing position paper by the chamber of commerce that painted the wind farm as a threat to Cape Codders' cherished values and way of life.

"It has the potential to severely damage our regional tourism economy [estimated to be in excess of $2 billion annually] and our ability to sustain its inextricably linked retirement, service and retail sectors," the chamber stated.

Wolf and his chamber colleagues also saw the wind farm degrading the environment, hurting commercial fishing, endangering sea and air navigation, while offering up negligible benefits to Cape Codders - from jobs to lower electric rates.

That was two years ago.

Gordon has spent the time since talking, cajoling, lobbying to change minds and hearts. Meanwhile, scores of experts have chimed in with research studies and fact-soaked opinions. Slowly, steadily, a slew of initial fears have been addressed, unsubstantiated claims unmasked.

The vivid experience of places like Denmark and England have been documented in the press, encouraging many Cape Codders to travel to Scandinavia to see for themselves a real-life cost-benefit scenario.

It turns out that those wind farms across the Atlantic maybe haven't hurt birds and fish; they may actually enhance populations. They haven't damaged tourism either; that industry is thriving in the shadows of giant turbines. The economics are a bit tricky for sure. But the environmental results are unyieldingly positive, contributing by mathematical formula to Denmark's dramatic drop in greenhouse gases.

All that has been making Dan Wolf think. For a while now, he's been wearying of the unceasing rhetoric and propaganda coming from both sides. He's begun to second guess his initial emotional reaction to the proposal when it was unveiled.

As a leader on Cape Cod, Wolf has been worried about the lack of leadership around the issue. "Two years ago, it was easy to say: 'You gotta be kidding,'" says Wolf. "But we didn't know a lot of things then that we know now."

That search for knowledge is why Wolf took off last month for Denmark on his personal investigation. Wolf took his teen-age daughter, whose future on Cape Cod may be determined by the fate of a wind farm.

"I needed to clear my own head of all the rhetoric," Wolf explains about traveling thousands of miles from Nantucket Sound to the offshore waters of Copenhagen; to get close enough to Denmark's giant turbines to gauge the impact of their blades.

Holding his daughter's hand, Wolf sought insight that would be measured not by tomorrow's news, but by generations.

Flying back home, Wolf realized that for him at least, a personal journey directed by both brains and soul, was prying open a window of greater tolerance.

Maybe, just maybe, this wind farm is more about the future and the entire world and less about the past and a single peninsula. "This is an opportunity for Cape Cod to be a leader," says Wolf. "To show nationally what can and should be done, to protect the environment. To think 'globally, but act locally.'"

Unlike two years ago, Wolf today has no desire to represent more than himself at this potential turning post.
This is a personal journey. "I don't have a new agenda," he insists. At best, he likens his willingness to speak personally to a silent campaign, one driven as much by seeking dialogue than rhetoric. He doesn't want to somehow be placed in the middle of the battle, his exploration and open-mindedness being manipulated like the words of Walter Cronkite.

At best, Dan Wolf's transformation is "provisional."

But if Jim Gordon truly is interested in gaining the support of someone like Wolf, a Cape leader ready to consider values and goals transcendent of the Cape, then maybe Gordon will have to listen even closer to Wolf's words.

Because Wolf is very much the businessman too. And the next gauntlet for him is Gordon's willingness to appreciate the difference between a pure business venture and one that inevitably requires the partnership of Cape Cod.

Until now, Gordon declines to open up his books. Technically, he is justified since Cape Wind is a private venture, not a publicly held company. But practically, that doesn't wash for Wolf.

A successful venture for Gordon surely requires significant public support, from federal tax credits to share the risk of development, to a community that would get virtually all its electricity from the turbines - if for no other reason than the physics of it all.

And since Gordon is to build a wind farm for more than private investors - indeed, for the future of America - then Cape Cod's support must come with a price, concessions based on the fact that Gordon's success will forever impact the peninsula's future.

If Cape Cod should need to sacrifice some of its past to lead the nation's future, then this business deal requires a different pact.

For Wolf, it begins with a "better definition of [Cape Wind's] business plan." What will the private investor's rate of return really be? If it is truly 10 percent or 11 percent, that would make sense. If it is 20 percent to 30 percent, at the expense of rate payers and taxpayers, that would be excessive.

If Cape Cod is to be the leading edge of wind power, a living laboratory for the nation, if not the world, then Wolf would also like to know that a single wind farm in Nantucket Sound might be a model, a first step on the path that might truly reshape our nation's energy policy.

If not, there's no hope of a new chapter for clean, renewable, independent energy; there's no chance that Cape Cod's risk becomes its legacy for Wolf's daughter and generations beyond.

All that can be assured is a single wind farm sure to someday be mothballed.

Many, including Wolf, appear eager to follow when real leadership on this issue emerges.

The Cape Codder, January 23, 2004