BARNSTABLE — The scene at Barnstable Excessive Faculty on a latest Monday night time felt like a homecoming rally — all anxious vitality, cheers, and hugs. A crush of our bodies flooded the hallway as revelers greeted associates and handed out fliers to folks pouring into the auditorium.
Besides these weren’t excessive schoolers filling the hall. This was a public assembly for Barnstable residents to debate a developer’s plans to put transmission cables from offshore wind tasks underneath their seashores. For probably the most half, these residents had been opposed, they usually had been demanding to be heard.
Chuck Tuttle, one in all 4 locals who prompted the occasion by getting greater than 500 residents to petition the City Council, surveyed the turnout and pumped his fist, thrilled at what he noticed. A gray-haired girl carrying a bright-blue jacket that matched her eyes gently laid her hand on Tuttle’s arm. “Do you assume we’ve got a shot at stopping this?” she requested him as the gang churned previous.
“I do,” he mentioned, smiling and watching the continued move of arrivals.
Removed from the regulatory workplaces the place choices are made and the chief boardrooms the place plans are laid, advocates and clean-energy specialists say the rising wave of opposition in Barnstable and different communities on the entrance strains of the offshore wind revolution characterize a possible risk to the clean-energy and local weather targets that depend on the speedy progress of an business that’s new to the USA.
The offshore wind business has lengthy been thought-about the cornerstone of the area’s plans to handle local weather change by transitioning off fossil fuels. However rising public opposition, mixed with financial challenges dealing with the business, are dampening the prospects for what was not way back thought-about a promising clean-energy answer.
In Barnstable, the primary subject isn’t the generators themselves. It’s that two main offshore wind tasks being developed by the corporate, Avangrid, referred to as Commonwealth Wind and Park Metropolis Wind, are planning to deliver energy ashore through native seashores. These high-powered cables could be buried roughly 50 ft beneath Barnstable’s shoreline — underneath Dowses Seashore and Craigville Seashore — earlier than winding via cement encasements underneath residential neighborhoods to hook up with the regional grid.
Some worry the cables might trigger well being dangers from electromagnetic fields, trigger fires or ecological disasters, and end in main disturbances to the world as roads are ripped up throughout development of the brand new tasks.
“What about well being? What about our future and our households?” Centerville resident Shelly Sterling requested on the Barnstable open assembly. These questions had been echoed by others within the crowd of a number of hundred, together with worries that the plans to run high-voltage cables via residential areas in Barnstable are turning residents there into guinea pigs. Offshore wind tasks elsewhere on this planet, they are saying, deliver the ability to shore at industrial or industrial areas, not residential ones.
However Avangrid has mentioned bringing energy to an industrial port in Somerset wasn’t an choice; different offshore wind builders have the rights to the capability there. Furthermore, that location would require longer transmission strains, which means higher value to ratepayers, and the cables must traverse ecologically delicate areas to get to Somerset.
Clear-energy opponents have overtly sought to capitalize on worries like these to dam the development of offshore wind. David Stevenson, a former Trump adviser and a director at a libertarian assume tank referred to as the Caesar Rodney Institute, has mentioned onshore landings are “the achilles heel of those tasks.” The institute is a part of the State Coverage Community, a gaggle of far-right assume tanks and nonprofits that combat climate-related laws. Stevenson has labored to delay or derail offshore wind tasks up and down the East Coast, together with via his help of an unsuccessful lawsuit, now underneath attraction, to cease Avangrid’s Winery Wind challenge, the nation’s first industrial-scale wind farm, which is being put in off Massachusetts’ coast.
In the meantime, financial elements like supply-chain disruptions and better rates of interest, are additionally serving to enhance opponents of offshore wind.
In New Jersey late final month the world’s largest offshore wind firm, Ørsted, deserted plans to construct two offshore wind tasks, citing financial elements. These cancellations got here amid a torrent of opposition, largely centered on perceived dangers that offshore wind poses to whales. Though main specialists on whales have mentioned that offshore wind plans don’t seem to threaten the whales, the message has caught: Public help for offshore wind in New Jersey fell from 80 % in 2019 to 50 % in 2023, in accordance a latest ballot by Stockton College.
“It’s been sort of stunning for me how asleep on the swap the builders and the advocates have been in anticipating, understanding, and responding to the opposition motion that’s sprung up towards offshore wind,” mentioned J. Timmons Roberts, an environmental research professor and director of the Local weather and Improvement Lab at Brown College.
The state of affairs in Barnstable additionally raises thorny questions which can be more likely to crop up increasingly because the nation transitions to wash vitality: What rights does a group need to say no to a clean-energy challenge? And the way ought to that proper be balanced towards the higher wants of the state, area, and nation to transition off fossil fuels?
Since earlier this yr, each Commonwealth Wind and Park Metropolis Wind, which might land their cables in Barnstable, have been on maintain resulting from financial elements. However the high-voltage cables of the Winery Wind challenge have already been linked beneath Covell’s Seashore in Barnstable, although they don’t seem to be but delivering energy.
On the seashore, there’s no actual hint of the Winery Wind cables, save for an extra manhole within the seashore’s parking zone. On a latest night, because the solar dipped low and clouds on the horizon turned peachy orange, vacationers strolling the seashore mentioned they’d no concept that high-powered cables had been operating beneath them.
In Barnstable, representatives from the developer Avangrid have been making an attempt to fight residents’ fears about its wind challenge. The corporate has been making month-to-month visits and bringing in well being specialists to reply residents’ questions.
After the Barnstable Excessive Faculty occasion, Ken Kimmell, Avangrid’s vice chairman for offshore wind improvement, mentioned Barnstable wouldn’t be a guinea pig for operating excessive voltage strains via a residential neighborhood. “There are underground energy strains all around the nation, together with all through metropolitan Boston, that carry the identical voltages that we’re speaking about from these offshore wind amenities,” he mentioned.
Nor would this be the primary seashore touchdown for underground cables, regardless of what many locals on Cape Cod argued. In France, two offshore wind tasks — the Saint-Nazaire Offshore Wind Mission and the Saint-Brieuc Offshore Wind Farm — land cables at seashores in residential areas much like Barnstable.
On the web site for Commonwealth Wind, Avangrid writes that the magnetic area at floor stage from the buried cables is “a small fraction of what happens from overhead energy strains, and much smaller than the earth’s pure magnetic area.”
Finally, these well being considerations — in addition to different worries raised by the group — shall be reviewed by the state’s Power Services Siting Board. And that’s one other factor that angers many in Barnstable. The choice about the place the cables will land was made by the builders with approval from the state, not the city.
In 2022, Barnstable did, nevertheless, signal an settlement for Avangrid to pay a $16 million host group payment associated to the Park Metropolis Wind challenge. The corporate additionally agreed to restrict development at and close to the seashore to non-summer months and pledged to take additional steps to guard the bottom water.
However with the challenge now on maintain, that settlement is simply too. Now Barnstable has to determine whether or not it is going to transfer ahead with these agreements or attempt to petition the state to have Avangrid discover a new place to land its cables.
In October, the Barnstable City Council voted to postpone signing off on easements associated to the Park Metropolis Wind challenge till there may be extra readability on the challenge’s standing. The council additionally determined to cease negotiating for an additional settlement associated to the Commonwealth Wind challenge.
Some residents say these agreements are value coming into into; in any case, the city has no clear authorized path to stopping the challenge. Its finest guess, they are saying, is to make the most of what Avangrid is providing. And whereas only a handful of supporters of the wind challenge landings spoke out on the open assembly, offshore wind and local weather advocates on the Cape say there’s a bigger, silent majority that helps the tasks.
However then there’s this.
This yr, resulting from a quirk of Barnstable’s code of governance, each single city councilor was up for re-election. Paul Cusack, a councilor who has been a vocal supporter for the wind tasks as a result of advantages the group might reap via host agreements, was unseated.
His opponent, John Crow, whose election indicators dotted lawns alongside indicators opposing the cable landings, beat him practically two to at least one.