CHILMARK, Mass. — President Obama is schedule to arrive here on Martha's Vineyard tomorrow for a ten-day vacation following his weekend dip off the Florida coast.
And if the president thought that the Florida vacation was the one where he would encounter angry locals upset about callous decision-making by federal Minerals Management Service officials who put the interests of big energy companies ahead of the health of birds, fish, and local residents — well, he should have joined me and the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts at the community center in Chilmark earlier this month, where about 100 residents and elected officials voiced concern about state and federal plans to surround Martha's Vineyard with hundreds of 50-story high wind turbines.
This isn't just the long-running tale of the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound. State and federal authorities plan to develop at least two more wind farms off Martha's Vineyard, a point that those at the meeting were reminded of by large graphics and renderings of how the windmills would mar the views from the beach.
The director of the environmental group Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow, or POINT, Andy Goldman, began the meeting by pronouncing himself "appalled" at the impact that the giant turbines might have on whales and birds.
POINT's lawyer, Eric Turkington, who spent 20 years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Democrat, said the energy generated by the windmills would cost about two and half times what other energy costs, but that consumers would be forced to pay for it under a 2008 state law that requires utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from green energy developed in Massachusetts.
The chairman of the Wind Energy Plan Work Group of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, E. Douglas Sederholm, said his group had been working with a sound consultant to develop ways of measuring the noise of the turbines. "These things are not silent," he said.
A selectman from West Tisbury, which neighbors Chilmark, Richard Knabel, prefaced his remarks by saying he doesn't personally oppose wind or alternative energy. He lives in a solar house and uses a wood stove for backup heat. Still, he said, "the brute force tactics" of the windfarm proponents are "extremely disturbing" and display "sheer arrogance." Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama ally, refused to meet with a delegation of Martha's Vineyard elected officials to discuss the wind plans.
"The governor wouldn't see us," Mr. Knabel said.
He said a proposed law to streamline windfarm siting decisions by concentrating power at the state law threatened "an abrogation of the property rights of citizens" by state officials "doing the bidding of politically connected wind energy developers" who would benefit from "a gravy train of subsidies and tax credits coming their way." The bill would even prevent opponents of windfarms from taking their case to court.
"How is this not the Chinese form of government, where citizens have no rights and the state has all the power?" Mr. Knabel said.
A Chilmark selectman, Warren Doty, who is also chairman of the Dukes County Fishermen's Association, asked rhetorically, "Where are we allowed to fish?...Tell us…What are the rules? Come talk to us." The Fishermen's Association has filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C. to stop Cape Wind.
He said the Coast Guard had advised them that radar wouldn't work in a wind farm, so fishing boats would need to carry an extra man in the wheelhouse to stand watch.
A director of the Dukes County Fishermen's Association, Buddy Vanderhoop, said the construction of the wind farm would involve dredging and pile driving. "It would be despicable to turn this place into an industrial park," he said. "This is a resort island. Put them off the Hamptons!"
The crowd greeted that suggestion with laughter and scattered applause.
The historic preservation officer of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head said the area approved for wind by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy (the new name for the Minerals Management Service) includes 4,000 square miles. "We are under attack," she said. "These are federal subsidies."
The Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts (Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, is seeking re-election in the fall), Charlie Baker, said he's "never been able to figure out how the math works" for offshore wind.
"You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions of dollars, of tax subsidies, and yes, billions of dollars of ratepayer subsidies," he said. "We'll be paying for this for the next 20 years," he said, a period during which technological change could bring cheaper, lower-impact energy sources.
Mr. Baker touted a letter to the state from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. "We emphatically state that considerably more detailed information about migratory birds, including their flight patterns and use of the waters and food sources within potential wind facility areas, will be required before the Service can support any specific project proposal," the letter says.
"They're not normally emphatic about anything," said Mr. Baker, a former Harvard basketball player who served in Governor Weld's administration before becoming CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Mr. Baker said the Patrick administration's wind energy plans — 2,000 megawatts — would require 60,000 acres of windfarm in the state. He said Massachusetts was losing young people to other states and even other countries.
"The economic opportunity that used to be here isn't," he said.
The evening was a reminder, if one were needed, that those looking to wind for "green energy" to replace offshore drilling of the sort that focused attention on the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer face obstacles of their own. When the usually reliably Democratic environmentalists of Martha's Vineyard are warmly welcoming a Republican candidate for governor, it's a signal that the politics and the reality of "green energy" may not be as simple as the slogans.
If the president manages to absorb any of this on his vacation, it could turn out to be a trip that's worthwhile for more than just rest and relaxation.