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JOAN VENNOCHI

Cape Wind: too 'ugly' for the rich?

UGLINESS CAN be good for you -- especially if you are not rich, powerful, or politically connected.

After a massive draft environmental analysis, the controversial proposal to construct a wind farm in Nantucket Sound is coming down to aesthetics. Governor Romney -- a supposedly pro-business, anti-government regulation, cold-blooded venture capitalist -- made that clear during recent testimony before the US Army Corps of Engineers. "We cannot trash this extraordinary resource," Romney said, referring to Nantucket Sound. "I've seen wind farms, and they are not pretty."

Two days later, the Romney administration announced support for windmill projects in Florida and Monroe in Western Massachusetts. Residents there also worry about the aesthetics of 20 340-foot-tall turbines and the overall impact on streams, wetlands, and woodland.

And that raises a question: With the Romney administration under pressure to develop sources of renewable energy, will controversial alternatives be foisted solely on poorer, less politically influential areas?

The proposed Nantucket Sound project would be the country's first offshore wind farm. The structures would stretch 417 feet high from the water's surface to the tallest blade tip and would be visible 4 miles away on Cape Cod and more distantly from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Some environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation and Greenpeace, believe that the trade-off in terms of energy and pollution savings is worth it. But Cape Wind Associates, the developer behind the proposal, is fighting the wealthy and well-connected, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy and other members of the Kennedy family along with some average Cape residents.

As for Romney's loud opposition, the governor could be feeling pressure from Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's strong effort to challenge the project. Or, perhaps he is feeling another type of pressure? Opposition to Cape Wind is organized through the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which spent $2.4 million fighting the proposed wind farm in 2003. On forms filed with the IRS in 2003, Christopher, Jack, and Michael Egan are listed as directors. Jack and Michael Egan are current board members. They are sons of Richard Egan, founder and chairman emeritus of EMC Corp.

The Egans are major political players. Here, while they also contribute to Democrats, they are big Romney fund-raisers. The Egan Family Foundation was the main funding source for a $100,000 survey done by the Beacon Hill Institute. It concluded that lower property values, reduced tourism revenue, and a loss in year-round jobs would result from the wind farm. The Egan Family Trust and Michael Egan own homes overlooking Nantucket Sound.

Ernie Corrigan, a spokesman for the alliance, said, "This is not a political issue at all." Opposition is "a matter of common sense," he said. Asked whether the Egan family's involvement influenced Romney's position regarding Cape Wind, Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom replied via e-mail: "No, not at all."

Asked to explain the governor's shifting positions, Fehrnstrom said, again via e-mail: "Gov. Romney supports efforts to encourage greater reliance on renewable sources of energy. There are several areas in the Berkshires region where wind farms have recently been approved. And there are a number of different areas off the coast of Massachusetts that we could also consider. They may not be optimal for the developer from a profit-making point of view, but we need to balance the public and private interest. Nantucket Sound is a national treasure. The governor does not want to turn it into a wind factory. He wouldn't recommend putting a wind farm in the middle of the Grand Canyon, or at the foot of Mount Rushmore, either."

In the Berkshires, legal challenges are underway. Under the current plan, "a year from now, turbine number 16 will be the third-highest point in Massachusetts," says Eleanor Tillinghast, cofounder of Green Berkshires Inc., a group formed to oppose wind farm power. "We believe the aesthetics are equally as valuable here. Nantucket Sound is a national treasure; so are the mountains of western Massachusetts." But, she says, Western Massachusetts is being left to the mercies of the market system, where small towns suffering from budget cutbacks are "willing to sell their wind, because what else do they have to sell?"

What a sorry way to run a state energy policy: Give to the have-nots what the haves don't want.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com. 

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