November 21, 2003  



My View




Huffing, puffing about wind power
My View: reader commentary


The Danes made it all clear. Cape Wind Associates brought Danish windmill enthusiasts Soren Krohn and Jan Toftdal to Cape Cod on Nov. 12, ostensibly to show how Denmark's experience with wind power relates to Cape Wind's proposal to build windmills in Nantucket Sound.

But the presentation revealed a great deal more about this proposal than the speakers, their sponsors or the audience might have realized. The appearance by Krohn and Toftdal came in the midst of a furor over a recently released study of the Cape Wind proposal by the Beacon Hill Institute.

The study, which presented the results of a 998-person survey of Cape tourists and homeowners, showed that the proposed project would have a small, negative effect on tourism and the Cape economy. It's not as if we had no warning that this modest finding was going to stir up a hornets' nest.

On one occasion our survey researchers had to get the police to stop a windmill supporter from running them off a site where they were legally interviewing tourists. That should have tipped us off as to what was to come.

Despite our painstaking efforts to perform an honest and scientific survey, Cape Wind officials launched an attack on our credibility as soon as our study came out. They seized on the fact that the study had received support from a foundation whose officials oppose the project. Their attack was grossly unfair and self-serving.

We had accepted the foundation grant on the understanding that we would publish our results irrespective of our findings, which, as Cape Wind acknowledged, were in certain respects favorable to its case. The foundation had no hand in designing, administering or interpreting our survey, and the survey itself was conducted by a respected and independent survey research firm.

The foundation didn't see the study until we released it to the media. Cape Wind knew - or should have known - all this from the get-go. It doesn't end there.

In addition, Cape Wind officials have made heated misrepresentations about our study, twisted our statistics and tried to sweep under the rug every point inconvenient to their case. And their take-no-prisoners tactics have spawned even nastier attacks.

These come from assorted cranks who claim that we engaged in "push polling" aimed at getting survey responses unfavorable to the project. One particularly vicious attack stems from a person who claims that our survey team "pushed" him to give such responses but whom, it appears, we never interviewed.

But it was the Danes who made us understand what the wind-farm huffing and puffing was all about. Their presentation was an infomercial on wind power - a carefully crafted mixture of facts, preachy condescension and humorous self-deprecation aimed at turning the biggest skeptic into a fervent windmill supporter. Nothing like having a couple of charming Europeans scold us for our SUVs and urban sprawl, while goading us to adopt their own, ever-so-enlightened, values.

We Americans need to get with the program, we were told. We need to shun the material clutter that marks our lives and adopt the kind of clutter that Europeans have come to prefer, which is to say, the presence of thousands of windmills up and down their coasts.

Never mind that Americans might not want to pay sky-high electricity rates or loll on U.S. beaches like so many Germans wiling away their month-long vacations at Blavandshuk. No need to consider the possibility that Bostonians trying to squeeze out a few days on the Cape might not want to spend hundreds of dollars to gaze at a horizon littered with windmills.

But the subtext was about none of this. It was about a heavily subsidized $2 billion Danish windmill industry and their American counterparts, who salivate at the prospect of a victory here.

Get 130 of these structures, taller than the Statue of Liberty, sited in Nantucket Sound, and a coastline packed with windmills comes into view.

Cape Wind and their Danish cheerleaders want us to coo over the happy ducks and seals frolicking around the windmills at Horns Rev. But their agenda is about dollars and kroner, not ducks and seals.

Come to think of it, with all the money that's at stake, we're beginning to feel like poor businessmen. It would appear that, if we were going to sell a study, we picked the wrong client.

David G. Tuerck is executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, and chairman and professor of the Department of Economics at Suffolk University.

(Published: November 21, 2003)


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