Profile on Cape Wind President Jim Gordon

On October 22, 2008 E&E Publishing's ClimateWire published a profile of Cape Wind President Jim Gordon and provided an update on Cape Wind as well as other offshore wind power proposals off the east coast of the U.S. and the race among the States to be home to America's first offshore wind farm.  This article is reproduced in its entirety here with permission. Copyright 2008, E&E Publishing, LLC. www.ClimateWire.net

OFFSHORE WIND: Cape Wind's competitors threaten to overtake the pioneer (10/22/2008)

Evan Lehmann, ClimateWire reporter

BOSTON, Mass. -- Jim Gordon is used to dodging tackles from the front. Or delivering one.

His angular face fits his forward flight, sharp and taut like he's racing headlong for the next encounter with critics in wood-shingled, beachfront "trophy homes" or with opposing members of Congress. Or a governor.

He's marched for seven years through courtrooms, state offices and federal agencies as the pioneer of the offshore wind farm. There were 17 altogether, and for each one he had to hew a path through a jungle of red tape.

Now, as the developer of Cape Wind on Nantucket Sound nears the finish line to become America's first offshore wind farm, Gordon faces a new threat, and it's from the rear.

A group of other ocean-based wind projects is racing up from behind, exploiting the path laid by Cape Wind Associates to compete for the valuable position of building the nation's maiden seaborne field of giant, electricity-generating windmills.

Not long ago, Cape Wind symbolized an entire industry. Now its once-shocking size -- 130 turbines standing like flooded corn rows -- is on the drawing boards in states like Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island. While the economic crisis has temporarily put a crimp in getting financing for wind turbine projects, there is ongoing maneuvering to see who will eventually dominate offshore wind.

Because there are big electricity demands in the large population centers along the coast and limited possibilities for onshore wind, the stakes for offshore could be large. Perhaps that will make the earliest state to build an offshore wind project a hub for the manufacture of the massive windmills and their thousands of components and for providing seaside service to the proposed farms up and down the East Coast.

"We all have that sort of chomping at the bit," said Greg Watson, the top adviser on clean energy technology in the Massachusetts Office of Environmental Affairs. "There is a sense that being first is important."

Damn the delays. Full speed ahead

Cape Wind has received environmental approval from Massachusetts. But the group still needs to secure about a dozen state permits, which Gordon expects will be approved together before next year. An incremental victory came in August when the project received a state license to lay 8 miles of underwater transmission cable extending from Cape Cod into Nantucket Sound. Separate approval is needed for a proposed cable into federal waters.

The last major hurdle -- an environmental impact statement from the U.S. Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service -- is expected to be completed by year's end.

But there is an unknown element in the process: Potential litigation could still burden the project with delays and expenses. Several suits are already under way. Gordon expressed frustration with a well-funded opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has spent millions to derail the project.

"I know what the opponents' strategy is," Gordon said during an interview in his Boston office. "It's to try to delay. Delay, delay, delay. You know, make us spend more money until we cry uncle. And it's not gonna happen."

While Cape Wind wrestles with an opposition that sees the 400-foot windmills as the industrialization of a stretch of ocean about 5 1/2 miles from the cape, other projects are receiving a groundswell of support. And everybody is sprinting to the finish.

Hot breath from behind

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) predicted last month that his state will develop the "first offshore wind farm" -- with 107 turbines that would provide 15 percent of the state's electricity.

New Jersey selected Deepwater Wind earlier this month to build a 96-turbine farm between 16 and 20 miles off the coast. The state has its eye on the gold medal.

Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney, a Democrat who's running for governor, asserted recently that it would be a "coup" to deliver his state's farm first. It would be about 11 miles off Rehoboth Beach, with between 60 and 200 turbines.

Gordon expects Cape Wind turbines to be spinning by 2011. The Delaware project is fast on its heels, and could begin operating by 2012. Other farms are also in the running for first: A small four-turbine farm is proposed off the coast of Hull, Mass., and a larger farm is slated for Texas, in state waters.

"It's not clear who will be first," said Laurie Jodziewicz, who heads offshore policy for the American Wind Energy Association.

In June, Delaware became the first state in the nation to finalize a contract to sell offshore wind power to an electricity supplier, a key step toward assuring financiers that a wind farm can be profitable. Delmarva Power dropped earlier opposition to the wind farm and agreed to buy 200 megawatts from the proposed facility over 25 years.

"We recognize the work that Cape Wind has done," said Jim Lanard, head of strategic planning for Bluewater Wind, which is developing the Delaware project. "We still think the odds are in [our] favor that we will get all of the pieces of the puzzle in place before other developers."

Cape Wind a 'game changer'?

Gordon is rich. He and his partners have poured $35 million into the groundwork for Cape Wind, so far. But it wasn't always that way.

He grew up in a two-family house in Newton, Mass., ripping open cardboard boxes and stocking coolers in his family's three small grocery stores. Sometimes he ran the cash register, but ask him if his family was wealthy and he says, "No, no, no."

Gordon says he didn't especially enjoy science as a kid, recalling vague memories about beakers and test tubes when asked about school projects. He remains passive about technical matters, he admits.

His strength is strategic vision, he'll tell you. And it passes through a prism of passion. He and his partners in Energy Management Inc. became wealthy when they sold five natural gas power plants in 1999 and 2000 for an undisclosed amount. (News reports estimate that the sale was worth more than $200 million.)

He's proud of those plants. Their legacy is evident not only in Gordon's wealth, but in his office, in which are displayed large aerial pictures of every one of them.

Climate change, Gordon says, is "one of the greatest generational challenges that we're facing." And he blamed Exxon Mobil and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, for sowing doubts about the effects of greenhouse gases through "junk scientists."

"We've been patient. We've invested a lot of money," he said of Cape Wind. "And believe me, there are a lot easier ways to make a living. I mean, we believe in this project, and we think that this is gonna be a game changer."

Cotuit is a small seaside town on the front lines in the battle over Cape Wind. There's no place closer to Horseshoe Shoal -- the shallow bank on which the wind farm would sit surrounded by the mainland and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard -- than this village. Gordon calls it "ground zero."

"I hate them," Kim Krisciunas, 30, said of the proposed windmills as she walked her dog near the shore, from which the turbines would be visible along the horizon, 5 1/2 miles away. "It's so gorgeous out there, and it's just going to destroy it."

Political winds have been shifting in Cape Wind's favor

The project has gained acceptance among cape residents, seven years after its proposal and amid rising energy costs. Cape Wind would provide about 75 percent of the cape and the islands' electricity, offsetting some production from an oil-burning power plant in Sandwich, located at the neck of Cape Cod.

A poll in March by Opinion Research Corp. found that 86 percent of Massachusetts respondents supported Cape Wind. On the cape, 74 percent of respondents expressed support.

There's also been a political shift. Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) opposed the project; his successor, Gov. Deval Patrick (D), supports it. Closer to the shore, Dan Larkosh was the only candidate, among five, in the Democratic primary for state representative to support Cape Wind. He won that contest in September and faces three independent rivals next month.

"That issue, Cape Wind, broke for me -- big time," said Larkosh. "Everybody wanted to know where you stood on Cape Wind."

Gordon, for his part, expresses confidence that his project will lower its anchor first in the seaward race for energy. His iPhone spits out real-time wind speed from the "met tower," or meteorological test column, that's been collecting data on Horseshoe Shoal for several years -- an advantage his competitors don't have. A year's worth of data is needed before construction can commence, according to experts.

But Gordon is helping other developers with that, too. The U.S. Minerals Management Service is poised to release final rules overseeing the construction of offshore wind projects later this year, an effort spurred by Cape Wind. That has energized developers and made it easier to propose projects and erect test towers. They're following Gordon's path.

"Deep down inside, a part of me would like to be the first offshore wind farm in America," Gordon acknowledged.

But he indicated that there's a bigger concern at play: The United States is falling far behind Europe in capturing its offshore resources for clean energy. And he bets China is next.

"We've gotta get going," Gordon said. "We've gotta get going."