Charles Komanoff


Komanoff letter to Riverkeeper director Alex Matthiessen, May 2003

May 13, 2003

Alex Matthiessen
Executive Director
Riverkeeper, Inc.
P.O. Box 130
Garrison, NY 10524

Dear Alex -

This is to follow up on our phone conversation regarding Bobby Kennedy's high-profile opposition to offshore wind projects proposed in Nantucket Sound and off Jones Beach.

You asked me to speak to Kennedy's concerns about fisheries and navigation, which I will do in a moment. First, let's be clear about what's at stake.

To stand in the way of eminently reasonable windpower projects like Cape Wind and Jones Beach is to encourage the continuing destruction of Earth's air, water and climate by fossil fuels. Every kilowatt-hour these projects are unable to produce because they have been delayed or stopped altogether is a kilowatt-hour that will be made by burning coal, oil or gas taken from the Earth. A decision to stop the Cape Wind and Jones Beach wind farms is a decision to keep polluting and poisoning.

Opposing the Cape Wind and Jones Beach projects, for essentially frivolous and self-interested reasons, discredits the environmental cause. Our fossil- and nuclear-based energy system is so destructive, and renewable energy so benign by comparison, that the environmental movement has made full-scale deployment of renewables a central goal. For decades, activists have insisted that renewable energy, along with conservation and energy efficiency, is a reasonable alternative to fossil and nuclear development. To thwart the East Coast's first major wind-energy projects on account of the trifling "impacts" cited by Kennedy validates the plunderers' argument that nuclear power and fossil fuels are indispensable because renewables will never amount to more than a niche source of energy.

Obstructionism like Kennedy's also gives our movement the appearance of a shell game played by bait-and-switch environmentalists. It is only a matter of time before Kennedy's opposition seriously undermines efforts, like Riverkeeper's campaign to shut Indian Point, that depend on creating viable energy alternatives. You mentioned that Entergy Corp. is using Kennedy's anti-wind statements to discredit the shutdown campaign; one can only wonder what took them so long.

I know that you know this. My hope is that you can help Kennedy grasp the full implications of his opposition to Cape Wind and Jones Beach.

As to the site-specific issues regarding the Cape Wind project:

Navigation - each 380 square-foot wind-turbine platform will sit in an expanse of ocean measuring 6,000,000 square feet, for an area ratio of almost 16,000 to 1. (Here I've assumed that the 22-foot "base diameter" given in the Save Our Sound Web site pertains to each platform, and I've "allocated" the 28 square miles of Horseshoe Shoals equally among the Cape Wind project's 130 turbines, implying 4-5 turbines per square mile.) In light of this ratio, it defies common sense to cast the project as an obstruction to fishing or a hazard to navigation, much less a usurpation of the waters of Nantucket Sound.

Wildlife - by the same argument, the turbine platforms will take up so little room that it's impossible to believe that their presence could significantly affect the fish population of the Horseshoe Shoals ecosystem, even if we assume that a platform will adversely affect fish in its immediate neighborhood. And of course, as a matter of fact, there is no empirical basis for any such assumption. On the other hand, last month's oil spill in Buzzards Bay was a painful reminder of the ongoing harm to wildlife caused by our failure to create alternatives to fossil fuels. Birds will also benefit from Cape Wind's displacement of fossil fuels, with little downside since current wind machines rotate too slowly (15 rpm) to present a threat to birds in flight.

View - the scenic issue should have been laid to rest by calculations such as those in my Cape Wind "open letter" last December, demonstrating that the maximum visual height of the turbines will be only around one degree from the nearest point on Cape Cod, less than half-a-degree from Martha's Vineyard and a quarter-degree from Nantucket. (In other words, from the nearest point on land, the tallest tower could be covered more than twice over with the width of your fingertip held at arm's length, and the towers would appear even smaller tan that from other shore locations.)

It is true that the turbines will appear larger to anyone who gets in a boat and sails right up to one. I don't mean to dismiss this consideration entirely. Any large man-made object in a natural landscape represents something of an intrusion. But Nantucket Sound is hardly a pristine, wild place; on the contrary, it is a place whose present appearance reflects a long history of interaction between nature and humankind - a very fitting place for a symbol of our determination to find less-damaging ways to obtain the energy our civilization needs. But if anyone should understand the practical and symbolic value of the Cape Wind initiative, it is Kennedy. And for that very reason, if any one person stands to damage the environmental movement by blocking the use of renewable energy, it is Kennedy.

Alternative sites - the argument that some unspecified "other site" would be better than Cape Wind (or Jones Beach, or any other viable wind project) misses the point. Cape Wind's raison d'etre, and that of wind power in general, isn't to top off the local power grid, but to replace fossil fuels. That's a global mission, and an enormous one, requiring, by rough calculation, the equivalent of several thousand Cape Wind projects in the U.S. alone. This means that other suitable wind power sites should be developed along with, not instead of, Cape Wind. Otherwise, the search for non-existent invisible sites will consign wind power to a token role (if that) when it is actually needed in huge amounts.

Cape Wind presents us environmental advocates with a fundamental question: do we save this or that natural area while the whole Earth continues to deteriorate, or do we protect the entire planet by systematically eliminating the sources of pollution? Do we stop replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents after just one or two, or do we replace them all? Do we make a show of biking to work once in a while, or do we do it every day? Similarly, do we limit wind farms to a few out-of-sight locations, or do we embrace them - admit them to our backyards, in fact - to maximize their contribution and demonstrate our commitment to saving Earth?

Alex, I appeal to you to begin the work of turning Kennedy around on offshore wind power. Not only does he respect you, but he depends on you in the struggle to protect the Hudson and shut down Indian Point. You are uniquely situated to help him see that his position is undercutting your common work, and to spark a re-evaluation.

If there's some way I can help you move forward, please let me know, quickly. The Earth is running out of time, and our movement is losing traction. The progress of wind power is a rare positive development. To block wind power, even to slow it down unnecessarily, is to strangle in the cradle one of our few promising infants.


Charles Komanoff

PS - You said that Kennedy does his anti-wind campaigning "on his own," i.e., without the Riverkeeper imprimatur. That is a classic "distinction without a difference." Kennedy is no Hydra but an individual like the rest of us. He cannot be for wind farms on behalf of Riverkeeper and against them on behalf of the beachfront property owners of Cape Cod. You know this, I know this, and the public knows this.