Save Our Seashore’s Eric Bibler addresses industrial wind concerns to the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission.

Eric Bibler, President of the Citizen’s Group Save Our Seashore, provided the following remarks to the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission:

March 22, 2010

Good afternoon.

Thank-you to Chairman Delaney, to Mr. Price, and to all of the Members of the Advisory Commission for this opportunity to address you.

My purpose in coming here today is to attempt to impress upon you the depth of the opposition that exists – and is rapidly growing — to various proposals that have been floated to install industrial wind turbines within, or abutting, the National Seashore.

In addition, I would like to address – and rebut – a series of justifications that have been offered in defense of these proposals to install industrial wind energy facilities within the National Seashore – a course of action which will result in the permanent impairment of the integrity of this beloved national park.

The question before us is not whether we should be “for” or “against” initiatives to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases or encourage the development of practical new sources of renewable energy as an alternative.   As we look toward the future and admit the challenges we collectively face, we are all environmentalists today.

Wind energy is a very complex topic which is mistakenly thought by many to be a simple one.  Everyone is “for” wind energy initially – you, me, everyone – because most of us share many popular misconceptions about the technology and its efficacy as a solution to our problems.   Chief among these mistaken preconceptions are the following:

o       Wind energy is benign, with virtually no adverse consequences

o       Wind energy is practical, reliable and efficient

o       Wind energy is wonderfully beneficial in terms of reducing green house gases, our dependence upon foreign oil and our “carbon footprint”

o       Wind energy is profitable,  a way to convert a plentiful and “free” resource – wind – into electricity while offering an opportunity for producers (like the Town of Wellfleet) to benefit financially

Who wouldn’t support such a wonderful alternative to burning fossil fuel – if only it were true?  But, in fact, not only is virtually every one of these claims open to challenge, they are all easily refuted.

I’m not going to argue most of these points today.

My purpose in mentioning them is to let you know that I understand the point of departure for most people – that there is really nothing to talk about regarding the miraculous benefits of wind energy because, as far as they understand, these questions have been settled.  I think that the near universal acceptance of this web of misconceptions goes a long way towards explaining how we ever could have arrived at the point that a Superintendent of a National Park – a man whose statutory purpose is “to preserve the landscape in its original condition for all future generations” – could frame the debate, without a hint of defensiveness or qualification, as “not a question of ‘if’” we should install industrial wind turbines within our national parks, “but a question of ‘where to put them’”!  What could be more shocking?

As the Commission Members know, we have written many letters to you discussing in detail why this specific proposal, the Wellfleet Wind Turbine project, should never be allowed to threaten the integrity of the National Seashore and why, in our opinion, it is the duty of the National Park Service to resist the plan and to ensure, for the sake of park users everywhere, that it is never built.

My purpose today, sadly, is to address a series of specific justifications for this project – erroneously framed as competing and equally important objectives of the park – which have been offered over the past several months and years in various private and public meetings and in official correspondence from Mr. Price.

None of these rationalizations stand up to scrutiny.  I believe that the sooner that we dispose of them – once and for all – and begin thinking more clearly about the core objectives of the National Seashore, the better we will all be for it.

In the end, there is simply one fundamental fact that we must all keep in mind in considering what debts and obligations the National Seashore owes – and does not owe – to various competing interests: the park was established to preserve a uniquely valuable tract of land, in its original, natural condition, for the enjoyment and use of the citizens of the United States, for all time.

I will be happy to take any questions, at your discretion, at the conclusion of my remarks.

  1. Adverse consequences to CCNS / No benefits.

    Once the rhetoric dies down and a detailed investigation begins, no one disagrees that there will be numerous and significant adverse consequences to any wind energy project, including this one.  Eventually, the argument is always about just how bad these consequences will be.  Here are a few:

    –Jolting visual impact from a 410 foot, mammoth steel machine with a blinking FAA beacon, towering over a landscape of 20 foot trees

    –Disturbing and unnatural noise – 105 decibels near the hub, equivalent to a jet or a helicopter (and NPS has a group devoted to minimizing jet flyovers!)

    –Chronic noise – significant disruption to habitat, hunting and breeding (see NPS studies, Royal Society for Protection of Birds / northern harrier).  Drives wildlife off.

    –Intense flicker – twice a day, each day, when the sun is out (also much more intense, and lasts longer, for park users near the wind turbine).

    –Mortality to birds and bats, especially raptors and migratory birds.  Not “if” they will be killed, but “how many?”

    –Wind turbine syndrome – a fancy name for the symptoms that occur from prolonged exposure due to the physiology of our ears, our extreme sensitivity to sound waves both audible and inaudible and disruption to our finely balanced bodily mechanism.

    –Compromises health and safety – the manufacturer’s recommended safety perimeter against “ice throw” and mechanical failure is 1300 feet in all directions for the Vestas V90.  Wellfleet proposes to place the wind turbine a bit more than 415 feet from the boundary of the Seashore.

    The bottom line: this proposal results in significant degradation of quality of the experience for the park user and profound disruption of the habitat in a conservation area – over a mile in all directions.

    The obvious question, then, is this: what benefits accrue to the National Seashore, or to park users, from the Wellfleet Wind Turbine proposal?

    Sadly, there are none.

    Absent the misguided notion that any presumed reduction in green house gases justifies destroying a swath of fragile habitat, there are no benefits.  Not one.

    So here’s the deal: Wellfleet gets all the money.  The park gets all of the fallout.

  2. The Fight against Global Warming – this is no solution

    This is one of the primary justifications for the Wellfleet wind turbine offered by Superintendent Price – our collective responsibility to do something about global warming and Mr. Price’s personal responsibility, as a public servant, to “other government agencies” and to the town of Wellfleet in this regard.

    No one disputes the urgency of the problem.  But this is not the answer.

    1. Extremely costly in terms of habitat and monetary resources.

      The best way I know to make this argument is to note that an average conventional power plant produces 500MW of power.  The windmill will produce, at best, 500KW – about 1 /1000 or 1/10th of 1% of this amount – and that is being generous.

      If we’re going to subordinate the core interests of the national park – conservation and preservation – to this “urgent national imperative,” then logically we should replicate this policy, right?  If it makes sense to do it here, it should make sense to do it everywhere.

      But are we ready and willing to ruin 1000 unfragmented habitats in 1000 conservation areas – or to sacrifice 1000 national parks – all for the sake of replacing ONE medium sized conventional power plant?  Is that a rational energy policy?

      Wellfleet is going to spend a total of $8 million on this project — $5.5 million (at least) for installation and $2.5 million in contributed land.  Is that an efficient use of our financial resources — $8 million per windmill?  That would be equivalent to $8 billion to replace a conventional plant – all of it paid for by tax subsidies and surcharges!

      Wellfleet’s financial pro forma financials – which are wildly optimistic, by the way – only appear to make sense because of legislation that – for the time being – provides them with a subsidized payment that is four times the wholesale price of electricity.

      The bottom line: Wellfleet proposes to devote $8 million in resources – a huge outlay – in order to produce a miniscule amount of energy so that they can reap the benefit of a lavish (and probably temporary) financial subsidy that pays them four times the going rate for electricity.

      Is that a sound foundation for a national energy policy?  To sacrifice fragile habitat and dedicated conservation areas and to move money, via taxes and surcharges, from one pocket to another, in order to build a series of ridiculously uneconomic projects run by inexperienced operators?

      If that is my part of “doing my part” – count me out!

    2. Wind Doesn’t Work (see accompanying articles in the background book)

      Wind energy is terribly inefficient and, worse, not reliable.   It only produces energy when the wind blows, and not on demand. Because of this, its capacity to reduce green house gases is almost always grossly overstated.

      The problem is that because consumers expect access to power on demand, the power plants keep running in the background – just in case the wind doesn’t blow.  It isn’t possible to fine tune the output from conventional plants – to start and stop them quickly – so they just keep humming, just in case they are needed.

      Many European countries that pioneered wind energy – notably Denmark and Germany – have been extremely disappointed by their experience and are moving away from this technology — and ending, or curtailing, their subsidies to promote it.

      The “footprint” – the amount of dedicated land that is required — is huge; the cost is high; the intrusion on the landscape is profound; the health and safety risks are disturbing; and it doesn’t work!  In addition, the output of electricity has been a mere fraction of the anticipated yield.  To my knowledge, not one conventional power plant has ever been retired or replaced because of substitution from wind energy.

      In a recent “Status Update” provided by the Wellfleet Energy Committee to the Board of Selectmen, the WEC assumed a 100% substitution effect – i.e. that wind energy replaced conventional energy (probably 100% coal) on a 1:1 basis and therefore reduced green house gases by an amount equivalent to the fossil fuels that were conserved.  This is typically – and fundamentally false.

      It should also noted that only 1% of all the electricity that we use is produced by burning oil and that wind energy does nothing – absolutely nothing – to “reduce our dependence on foreign oil” as many (including the Wellfleet Energy Committee) assert.  That is categorically false.

    3. Conservation groups – and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – and by extension the Secretary of the DOI – are ALL opposed to installing wind energy facilities in conservation areas.

      All conservation groups AND the Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee – appointed by the Secretary of the Interior and serving under the sponsorship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – categorically OPPOSE invasion of conservation areas for development of wind energy.  Excerpts from the Wind Turbine Guidelines are included in the accompanying background books which I am distributing.  A cursory glance at these Guidelines will confirm that the parent agency of the National Seashore opposes, on principle, wind energy projects such as the one proposed by Wellfleet and, inexplicably, unopposed by the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    4. CCNS does not make national energy policy!

      CCNS management is explicitly charged with the duty and the obligation to manage a national park, with fixed boundaries, in the furtherance of its core objective — preservation of the landscape, the soundscape, the flora, the fauna and the quality of the park experience for all future generations.  Period.  No more, no less.  They should be leading the charge AGAINST industrialization in the park – of any kind – and not making exceptions for a specific type of industrialization; or worse, ushering it in.

  3. Seashore vs. Town — “The Cape Cod Model”

    This is another oft repeated justification for the Wellfleet wind turbine by its proponents – that the park “must be sensitive” to the needs of the towns “because the towns were there first.”

    Or, to put it more bluntly – as the Town of Wellfleet effectively did with the recent publication of a legal opinion from their Town Counsel: it’s none of NPS’s business what Wellfleet chooses to do with the land they own within the national park.

    But this argument is also fallacious:

    1. The primary responsibility of management of CCNS — including the park superintendent – is to further the core mission of the park and to protect the rights and prerogatives of the park users.  That core mission, which is clearly set forth in Congressional legislation, is preservation and conservation, pure and simple.  Everything else is secondary.

      Furthermore, the founding legislation clearly stipulates that zoning regulations for land within the boundaries of the park – and this land is clearly within the boundaries – must be compatible with the achievement of the park’s core objectives – preservation and conservation.  Wellfleet’s wind turbine zoning bylaw, and its subsequent proposal to industrialize land within the park, are in direct conflict with this core mission.   At a recent public meeting and in official correspondence, Mr. Price has made it clear that the NPS takes issue with the recent opinion of the Wellfleet Town Counsel that the NPS has no rights in this regard.

      So if the CCNS and its Advisory Commission feel so passionately about opposing the recent construction of the Blasch House – a two story structure – within the Seashore that they are willing to go to court to assert their legal rights in this regard, why are they so passive about protecting the park from the erection of a series of 400 foot industrial structures from one end of the National Seashore to the other?  This is even more mystifying when one considers that the legal case against the Blasch House is indescribably weaker than the case that might be brought against the intrusion of 400 foot industrial machines within the park!

      Why is CCNS so permissive – and so impotent – in the face of such an intrusion?  In fact, even more shocking, why is CCNS actually leading the “view shed analysis” exercise to determine “appropriate” locations for such industrial structures within the boundaries of the park?

      There is no requirement that the national park sacrifice its objectives when it comes into conflict with a town’s desire to develop, to industrialize and threaten the very reason for the park’s existence.

      And, therefore, there is no justifiable reason for such acquiescence to the desires of other parties – including the abutting towns — to develop land within the park.

    2. Wellfleet does not NEED a wind turbine — and this is not the place to put one.

      Wellfleet has access to energy – plenty of energy.  If this proposal doesn’t make sense on environmental grounds – and it doesn’t – then stripped of this motive, it is nothing more than an irresponsible scheme to cash in on government subsidies and surcharges.  In fact, this is Wellfleet’s primary selling point with voters – new revenue for the town – but at the expense of the park.

      It is true that the management of the National Seashore should be sensitive to the needs of the abutting towns – within reason.  But it is also true that the respective goals of the two parties – conservation for the Seashore and development for the towns – are inherently in conflict.  And the management of the park is obligated to preserve the integrity of the park at all costs.

      The Cape Cod Model notwithstanding, there is no stipulation anywhere that the Superintendent of the Park must be sensitive to any Town’s desire to exploit the resources of the park to reap a windfall profit from various state and federal subsidies.

      Acquiescence by the park to such a scheme is unnecessary, unacceptable and unconscionable.

  1. Seashore vs. other U.S. Government agencies and/or national priorities

    The NPS is not obligated to sacrifice its core mission for other U.S. agencies either – not even for the President of the United States.

    1. Congress vested authority in each of the national parks to pursue one mission, and one mission only: the preservation and conservation of specific resources of notable natural and historic value to the nation.

      It is not the prerogative of any entity in the Executive Branch – not even the President – to redefine the mission of the National Seashore or any national park.  It is the law of the land.  Only Congress can modify the original mandate and, indeed, it would take an Act of Congress to do so.

    2. As we have noted previously all of the Secretarial Orders and Executive Orders dealing with energy policy – and renewable energy – clearly state that ALL such policies are to be pursued in a manner that is compatible with the core missions of other entities in the system – especially entities, like the national park system, that are wholly devoted to conservation. Language to this effect is contained in ALL of these orders.

      As evidence that individual agencies are permitted – indeed expected – to pursue their stated missions on behalf of the citizens they serve, we need look no further than the recent rejection by the FAA of the CCNS application for permission to build their OWN windmill. The FAA – whose mission is protecting public safety by ensuring, among other things, that airplane navigation is sound – advised CCNS that due to the proximity of the Highlands Center to an critical radar facility in Truro, the maximum height it could allow for a wind turbine at that location is “zero feet.”

      CCNS might want to keep this example in mind as it ponders how best to ensure the safety of park users within the 1300 foot safety perimeter recommended by the manufacturer of Wellfleet’s wind turbine since so much of this “fall zone” – over 875 feet — falls on CCNS property.

    3. The Secretary of the Department of the Interior – the parent of NPS – appointed a Federal Advisory Committee in 2007, under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, specifically for the purpose of developing detailed policies for “responsible development” of wind energy (see relevant excerpts in your briefing books).

      Several versions of their recommendations have been produced in draft form and their final recommendation, with minor revisions, is expected imminently.  The very foundation of the “tiered methodology” recommended by this FAC is simple – CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE LOCATION for installation of wind energy facilities.  Conservation areas, sensitive habitats, national parks – these are all, by definition, INAPPROPRIATE locations for giant, disruptive, industrial wind turbines.

      According to these Guidelines, such areas should be abandoned by developers as soon as they are identified because:

      i) Sacrificing habitat to combat global warming is senseless and counterproductive; and

      ii) It is simply not worth it. The FAC advises developers that it’s better to save time, money and aggravation for all concerned by avoiding these sites because adverse effects in such areas are expensive to mitigate and because development in them is sure to be hotly contested.

Any notion that the Secretary of the Interior, or the President, has instructed us to develop wind energy within national parks is completely unfounded in the historical record and the applicable law.

No such directive exists and, even if it did, it would be the duty of the National Park Service to ignore, as illegitimate, any such misguided pronouncements about appropriate national policy within the parks.

  1. A Word about “View Shed Analysis”

    We have already spent a great deal of time discussing the shortcomings of this exercise, which was really little more than an expedition by representatives from the Town – including members of their respective energy committees – to select the best sites to install their wind turbines within the Seashore.

    The “best” sites were basically defined as areas that: a) provided the best wind; b) avoided the clustered development of the towns by invading the Seashore itself; and c) offered some hope of acceptance – despite their presence in the Seashore – by not directly obstructing water views.

    Note that all of these parties were essentially the wind turbine developers themselves, with the exception of the Seashore management — which had already stated its conviction that the question was not “if” we should have industrial wind turbines in the park but “where” to put them.

    CCNS has stated that any evaluation of the relative merits of windmills sprouting from the natural landscape it manages is “inherently subjective.”

    Mr. Geoffrey Karlson, Chairman of the Wellfleet Energy Committee, has picked up on this theme with his mantra that any objection to the presence of 410 foot industrial machines within the Seashore is a matter of “mere personal preference.”

    Some citizen artists – notably Mr. Peter Watts and Ms. Helen Miranda Wilson have even come forward to declare that wind turbines are “beautiful” and shining “symbols of our independence.”

    In fact, all of these statements are irrelevant and completely miss the point.

    National Parks – including the National Seashore – exist to preserve and the natural landscape, and the wildlife therein, in their original condition for all future generations.  They are conservation areas – not sculpture gardens and not industrial parks.

    “Preservation of the landscape in its original condition” is an OBJECTIVE criterion – not a subjective one.  It is an objective prescribed by an Act of Congress – and decidedly NOT a matter of “pure personal preference.”   It may be the “personal preference” of the Town of Wellfleet to turn their 220 acre parcel within the Seashore into an industrial park; but it is certainly not their prerogative to do so, unrestrained by the prohibitions against such activities that are inscribed in federal law.

    So could we PLEASE get rid of the notion – for once and for all – forever – that the recent exercise in “View Shed Analysis” lends any sort of legitimacy to the proposed exploitation of the park?

  2. Who is the Park User’s Advocate?

    This is the most fundamental question that we face today.  Who is the park user’s advocate in this process?  Who stands up for the little guy — the 300 million citizens of the United States, and visitors from abroad, who come here to enjoy our national park?

    Is there anyone out there whose primary loyalty is to the park user?  Can we identify anyone whose primary goal is “to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of the experience within the park for all future generations” of park users?

    Sadly, I am nothing more than a park user and I cannot identify an official champion of my cause.

    The CCNS Advisory Commission may be sympathetic to the concerns of the park user – up to a point – but the representatives of this body are appointed by the towns that abut the Seashore, by the Governor of the State of Massachusetts and by the Secretary of the Interior – all of whom seem to have a burning desire to install industrial wind turbines on Cape Cod.  No offense, but you are all accountable to someone else.

    What about the Superintendent of the Seashore?  Isn’t he the logical choice?

    Sadly, once again, it is apparent that the Superintendent’s primary loyalty lies elsewhere than with the park user.

    It is difficult, under the best of circumstances, to debate the relative merits of installing industrial wind turbines within a national park when the Superintendent frames the discussion by declaring:

    “You all know how I feel: it’s not a question of ‘if’ we should have wind turbines, but ‘where’ to put them!”

    I also now have numerous official letters on file from the Superintendent, to various people, which focus almost exclusively upon the need to “balance” the objectives of the park with the needs of “other federal agencies,” our “national mission to promote renewable energy,” the “Cape Cod Model,” the “needs of the surrounding towns” and the urgency to do something – anything, it appears, no matter how foolish and desperate – to combat global warming.

    That makes for a pretty tall mountain to climb if you want to argue that such devices do NOT belong within national parks, or in areas abutting national parks where they compromise the core conservation objectives of the park.

    Or if you want to argue that ruining a large swath of habitat for a token amount of energy is senseless in terms of accomplishing our great national objective.

    Or if you want to complain that such structures have a profound adverse effect on the park experience – forever.

    As Mr. Price tells the story, he’s got all of the Towns, the Secretary of the Interior and the President on his side.  He is dealing with the Big Picture.  We are the myopic ones who can’t see past our own parochial, NIMBY concerns.

    These letters almost never – if ever – discuss the quality of the experience for the park user or the paramount objective of preserving that experience intact for future generations.  In fact, these letters – and other pronouncements by CCNS management — regularly ignore, reject or minimize evidence of extensive degradation of that experience and to the very integrity of the park.

    A case in point – just one, mind you — is a recent letter by Superintendent Price to Mr. Ed Doyle stating that because he didn’t believe that the strobe-like flicker from the proposed wind turbine would have much effect upon “transient park users,” he intended to ignore it.  He advised Mr. Doyle to take this matter up with the Town of Wellfleet!

    Commission members may recall that at their very last meeting, no less an expert than Mr. Jim Sexton of the Wellfleet Energy Committee said that “the flicker effect from the wind turbine can really be quite intense.”   Black & Veatch, the engineering consultant hired by the Town of Wellfleet to do their feasibility study in 2008, singled out this effect as the area of their greatest concern.

    It is important to keep in mind that Black & Veatch was speaking of the “flicker effect” upon nearby residences, up to a mile a way, and to know that this effect lasts longer, and is much more intense, the closer you are to the wind turbine.

    Are those “transient park users” for whom Mr. Price evidences so little concern to be exposed to this effect twice a day – morning and evening – from distances of as little as 425 feet – every single day that they might wish to enjoy the peace and solitude of this wooded area within the Seashore?

In late January, I sent two letters to the management of the Seashore – Mr. Price and Ms. McKean, respectively – asking for answers to detailed questions on various aspects of the wind turbine proposal as they affect the park.  But the fundamental question underlying all of these questions was the same:  Who is the Park User’s advocate?

I don’t live in Wellfleet.  I don’t own a house there.  I am a mere “transient park user – no more, no less.   My question to all of you then, and again to all of you today is this:

Who is standing up for me?

I am still waiting for an answer to that question.

Thank you for your time and attention.  I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak to all of you and I implore you, on behalf of all park users, to consider wisely the future and integrity of the National Seashore as you consider the implications of all such proposals to industrialize the park.

Eric Bibler

President

Save our Seashore

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One Response to Save Our Seashore’s Eric Bibler addresses industrial wind concerns to the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission.

  1. jeff cohen says:

    HELP!!!!! i have listed a site placed in our area by another neighborhood battling a windmill (plymouthwind.info) My own neighboirhood has been blindsided by windmills that were kept from us thtu town meetings and only via a mysterious letter left in several mail boxes did we find out, just shy two weeks from the zoning apeal meeting (Nov 17th) in our rush for information i was told of a group of peole from well fleet who have been helping other communities fight the windomills and we could certainly use some help or guidnace if this is the proper group? I woudl look forward to hearing from anyone regarding thi sissue, we are pressed for time and working at a feverish pace to have our ducks in a row fo r next week! Please let me know if i have the right group and if there is anything you could do to assits our battle?
    Thanks,Jeff ….and you have my e-mail already……..

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