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
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
News
peopleThis time as he’s awarded the Freedom of Stirling and handed an honorary degree
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Sport
sport
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
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

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents