Massachusetts – Cape Wind Associates, the developer of the Cape Wind project, announced in a press release on April 11th, 2012, that it had finally awarded a construction contract for the 2.5 billion dollar wind farm project in Nantucket Sound. This should be welcome news for the majority of Massachusetts residents who support the Cape Wind project. However, overall signs of progress such as these have been quite rare during the wind farm’s pre-construction development, a process which has now gone on for more than a decade. One primary reason why Cape Wind has yet to break ‘ground’ is the fierce opposition the project has long encountered from some residents of Cape Cod and Nantucket, the communities nearest to the site chosen for Cape Wind’s turbines.
Though local opposition to Cape Wind may frustrate the project’s supporters, they can hardly claim that such opposition could not have been anticipated. Of course, large construction projects of all types face a significant risk of generating local opposition, but in the case of wind farms, this opposition is almost a forgone conclusion. In fact, one of the key reasons for siting a wind farm offshore in the first place is to minimize local opposition by keeping the turbines far from homes and business (structures which are, typically, built on land). Unfortunately, this ostensibly wise approach proved partially successful at best in the case of Cape Wind. Tellingly, other wind turbine projects in Eastern Massachusetts have been much smaller in scope, but have still encountered vocal protests from the communities in which they have been built. For example, the 400-foot “Aeolus Tower” in Falmouth and the 364-foot MWRA Charlestown Wind Turbine both caused a significant number of nearby residents to complain to local government.
Wind farms, of course, provide clean energy, and using more clean energy is something all informed people should want to do. However, when those living near planned wind farms choose to oppose them, they tend to do so for reasons totally unrelated to energy production. Renewable energy proponents would be wise to take these complains seriously. For one thing, wind turbines are far noisier than buildings because their spinning blades create audible turbulence. For another, wind turbines cast broad shadows that, unlike the shadows of buildings, are generally in a state of rapid motion. Such moving shadows can be intensely annoying when they drift through a window and land upon a computer screen or dinner table. Perhaps most fundamentally, though, opposition to wind farms may be attributable to the fact that a wind turbine fits itself into a built environment that has yet to establish a true place for it. That is, a wind turbine is a structure with the scale of a building that is often erected amongst buildings, yet is not itself a building. A wind turbine is a machine. The machine has an engineered elegance but it is hard to evaluate as a work of architecture. This is a problem because the people of greater Boston, like peoples all over the world, have been accustomed to walking amongst buildings and architecture for hundreds of years. It may take some time before we are truly comfortable walking amongst giant machines.
Photo: A tower wind turbine in Hull, Massachusetts from Flickr user seantyler; used under Creative Commons license.