CAMBRIDGE -- It was one hour before last night's public hearing on a contentious wind farm proposed off the coast of Cape Cod and the Islands, and nerves were raw.
Electricians bused in by their union to applaud the project's potential to create jobs traded barbs on the columned steps of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with opponents bused in from Cape Cod.
Hundreds lined up to register to speak and opponents griped that Boston environmentalists had shown up hours earlier to stack the deck.
Then, the yachters showed up. Wearing captain's hats or ball gowns, a half-dozen protesters marched down the hallway, spoofing opponents of the Nantucket Sound wind farm as wealthy and self-interested. The protesters suggested that the plant be built somewhere more accustomed to an industrial development, such as Fall River or Roxbury.
"Save our Sound, save our Sound, especially the view from my compound," they chanted. A man who called himself Preston Cabot Peabody III held a sign that read, "Global Warming: A Longer Yachting Season."
Supporters of the wind farm dominated the debate in the early hours of the fourth and final public hearing on Cape Wind Associates's proposed offshore wind farm. The hearings allow public comment on the Army Corps of Engineers's draft environmental impact statement, a nearly 4,000-page report that was largely favorable of the project. Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 24.
Environmentalists had pushed for a Boston-area hearing following three hearings last week on the Cape and Islands. Last night's meeting, attended by more than 600, had a decidedly Cantabrigian flair. Supporter Carl Freeman of Dennis incited the crowd to join in singing a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." Opponents of the wind farm, viewing it as an eyesore, say it would create environmental hazards, such as killing birds with turbine blades and hampering fish habitats. Led by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, opponents argue that it is unfair to let a private developer build on the public waterfront, which is not zoned for development. This week, the alliance advertised in the Cape Cod Times and on radio, urging residents to speak out, and filled a bus bound for Cambridge with like-minded opponents.
Pete Lowell, a Falmouth resident and Cotuit landowner, said there is no appropriate standard by which to judge the proposal. "What is missing here is a national energy policy that sets the standards for projects such as this," he said.
Cape Wind Associates's $770 million project would erect 130 wind turbines within a 24-square-mile area of Nantucket Sound. The turbines could generate as much as three-quarters of the average electricity needs of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod. But unlike coal or gas-fired power plants, they would produce no pollution.
Environmental groups regard the project as an important step toward creating large-scale commercial power plants independent of foreign fuel; they also deride opponents -- who say they would support wind energy projects elsewhere -- as embracing a Not In My Backyard philosophy.
"You cannot NIMBY anywhere, any time, and expect to have electricity everywhere, all the time," said Norris McDonald, founder and president of the African American Environmentalist Association, asking opponents to accept their "fair share" of the burden of energy projects. "Minority communities have accepted more than their fair share of pollution."
Eric Chivian, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, who shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, said opponents fail to grasp the risk of global warming, advanced by pollution from traditional power plants. "If we defeat the Cape Wind project, we will have foreclosed a significant first step toward protecting our children's health and the health of their environment, and we will have made a tragic and shamefully ignorant mistake," he said.
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at email@example.com.