“There are millions of dollars at stake for our guys, and the industry could benefit greatly from the work it would give us and the guys off the bench,” said Glenn Kingsbury, Boston Chapter executive of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), about Cape Wind—an off-shore electricity generating project near the Massachusetts coast.
The Cape Wind project started off innocently enough as an alternative method of powering parts of Massachusetts and its coastal islands. With current power generating capacity under pressure due to power-hungry consumers and tighter supplies, the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board considered developing an alternative method of powering the area. Board members looked offshore for help, but what they didn’t expect was the push back they received from community groups and political leaders.
The greatest obstacle Cape Wind faces is the attitude of NIMBY—not in my backyard. Supporters such as Greenpeace and the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club say the offshore electricity-generating farm would lessen damage done from current fishing techniques that destroy the natural habitat. They feel this way despite the negative impact wind farms have on migratory birds.
Critics of the project are numerous, vocal and powerful. Groups such as SaveOurSound.com oppose the project for aesthetic, economic and environmental concerns. They contend the project will affect fishing, area tourism and water-bound navigation. They also say it will affect the beauty of Nantucket Sound.
Other critics are political, from both sides of the congressional aisle. Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney opposes the development and has threatened to veto the project if given the authority by Congress. A provision to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2005 reauthorization bill (HR 889) would have given him that authority he currently lacks had it been approved.
The issue hits closer to home for Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has a home near the proposed site. He opposes the 24-square-mile project because of fears it will affect ship navigation and tourism. The site also happens to be eight miles from his home and would be distinctly visible on the horizon. He has also criticized the project’s impact on the environment and the economy.
Bob White, executive director for NECA Government Affairs, said the issue of wind energy can be important to the electrical contracting industry, even if wind energy has not caught on nationwide.
“Wind farms are cropping up across the country in many areas, from Texas to the Great Lakes, coast to coast,” he said.
Cape Wind has unique requirements that standard line contractors do not deal with regularly.
“Someone needs to run cabling on the sea floor to shore and connect it to the local infrastructure. Someone also needs to wire the offshore facility,” said White. “The jury is still out on the economic feasibility of wind farms; they may be a lot of dust in the wind when all is said and done.”
In September 2005, the House of Representatives passed HR 889 415 to 0. In October, the Senate also passed the bill without opposition, and it was referred to a conference committee where differences between the bills were worked out by both the House and Senate.
The bill sat in conference until partisan bickering derailed it. The bill was completed and filed on April 6. At press time, the bill will give the Coast Guard final say in what happens to the Cape Wind project.
Now, the commandant of the Coast Guard would have sole authority in matters of navigational safety, leaving the Massachusetts governor out of the loop. The conference report has been approved by the House and Senate, where it will move to the White House for the president’s signature.
No matter what happens on the floor of the Congress, someone would benefit from the Cape Wind project. It could be consumers or electrical contractors.
“The project is worth over $750 million to the construction industry as a whole,” said White. “This could provide thousands of man-hours in work for electricians.” EC