Storm over Cape Cod

Famous names fight wind farm plan in millionaires' playground

As she put the finishing touch to a watercolour outside the gated community of Oyster Harbours, Nancy Walton wrinkled her nose at the thought of America's first offshore wind farm popping up on the horizon of Nantucket Sound. "I believe in wind power," she said, "but these will be higher than the Statue of Liberty. There are so precious few places on earth as unspoilt as this. Why can't they just put them somewhere else?"

Oyster Harbours is ground zero in a very uncivil war in which some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the country have joined forces with one of America's dirtiest businesses – the coal industry – to block an ambitious clean-energy project.

As Hyannis filled up with traffic ahead of the Independence Day holiday today, there was a whiff of cordite rather than fireworks in the air as both sides blasted away at each other.

So far, the opponents have spent more than $20m trying to kill off the project, which is known as Cape Wind and is planned for a location widely deemed ideal for offshore wind turbines.

During the summer, 130 slowly spinning windmills located five miles offshore should be invisible to the naked eye because of haze. On winter days, when the "snowbirds" (as the locals call summer visitors) have departed for Florida, the windmills will look like rotating matchsticks out on the horizon.

But a problem arises because the wind farm will at times be visible from some of the most expensive summer homes and private beaches in the US, most notably the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport. And whether Obama Democrats or McCain Republicans, vulgar billionaires or old New England money, opponents of the project decided long ago to throw in their lot in with Big Coal to try and kill off Cape Wind. "This is like trying to put a wind farm in Yellowstone National Park as far as we're concerned," said former coal executive Glenn Wattley, who runs the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Most prominent among the opponents is Edward Kennedy, patriarch of the famous political clan and now ill with brain cancer. Kennedy opposition to the wind farm may be understandable, given that the stretch of water from Cape Cod to the summer playgrounds of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard is hallowed ground where Jack, Bobby and Ted Kennedy grew up sailing dinghies and chasing girls. Other opponents include the heiress Bunny Mellon and Bill Koch, a billionaire oil and coal industrialist who is the main financial force behind the opposition.

A number of those now advising John McCain in his run for the presidency have also lobbied against the wind farm. The firm owned until a few months ago by Charlie Black, Mr McCain's chief strategist, is busy pulling the levers of power from Boston to Washington DC in his efforts to to derail the project, although Mr McCain himself is an enthusiastic Cape Wind supporter.

So upset was the author Wendy Williams by the distortions of the anti-wind farm lobby and the squandering of public money on countless hearings and lawsuits in the past seven years, that she wrote a book about the battle called Cape Wind. "The global elite are simply out of control," she said. "Environmentalism is fashionable among this crowd, but they still drive SUVs to Save-the-Whale rallies."

Jim Gordon, the man behind Cape Wind, is not a member of the Cape Cod set. He has spent more than $30m in the past seven years trying to get the project off the ground. He finds himself branded as a rapacious outsider who wants to pocket extraordinary profits and spoil the famous view. However, for all the well-funded opposition, Cape Wind has plenty of local and national support. Leading environmental organisations including Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Sierra Club want it to go ahead. Locals hope the project will reduce rising electricity bills and help clean up the air they breathe.

Cape Cod has some of the worst air quality in Massachusetts. The fumes from oil and coal-fired electricity generating plants are trapped by the sea breezes and hover over the cape for days on end.

Barbara Hill runs a grassroots environmental organisation known as Clean Power Now and often finds herself at the wrong end of a disinformation campaign being run by the anti-wind power lobby.

"All the money being splashed around to kill off the wind farm is a scandal," Ms Hill said. "The turbines are a perfect marriage between nature and technology and we have had working windmills throughout our heritage in New England.

"We want people to sit on the beach, see the windmills and make the connection between the energy they consume and its production. For too long people have ignored the pollution caused by oil and coal."

On the beach with Jack, Ted, Bill and Gordon

Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have been attracting visitors since the time of the Pilgrims. When President Kennedy was alive, war cabinet meetings were held at the Kennedy family home in Hyannisport (where he and his brothers, Ted and Bobby, grew up), with JFK wrapping up the meetings early so he could take his visitors out on Nantucket Sound in the family yacht, Honey Fitz. "I always come back to the Cape and walk on the beach when I have a tough decision to make," he once said. Bill Clinton holidayed on Martha's Vineyard along with Hillary and Chelsea and found it was one of the few places that he could go in America without running into protesters. The Vineyard is also a favourite of Gordon Brown. He honeymooned at the Wequassett Inn in Chatham in 2000 and has been a frequent visitor to Cape Cod.

Suggested Topics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal