Wind turbines are one element of the push for renewable energy that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney championed on Tuesday night’s debate. But wind sources are also frequently opposed by local residents. Colleen Pendergast, from Edmonton, lives in Nantucket, Mass., the centre of one such dispute.
This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
I am what Nantucketers call a “Wash Ashore,” a person who has moved to the island from somewhere else.
Nantucket is an island about 30 miles off the coast of Boston, Mass., and it has about 10,000 year-round residents and over 50,000 residents and visitors during the summer’s high season. It is the kind of place where well-heeled celebrities, high-end politicians, and heads of industry have homes.
It is also the kind of place where the community is very tight-knit, the beaches are clean and plentiful, “downtown” is all cobblestone streets and the island’s natural beauty still catches my breath.
The residents of this island care very deeply about preserving its natural beauty and the ocean’s ecosystem. Nantucket’s commitment to the environment is far better than anywhere else I have lived in the United States and they do it well here. They know that the lifeline of the island lies in its ocean and in its tourism. The smallness of the island makes managing the natural resources very doable, and the fact that the only way to get to the island is by boat or plane keeps the island isolated.
Living in a place that has such strong and effective environmental practices is a pleasure, which is why I was so surprised to see the level of acrimony surrounding wind turbines.
Nantucket already has one wind turbine that has been up and running for a couple of years on the high school’s field. I didn’t live here while this was proposed or installed, but when I first drove past it, I thought, “Wow, that is smart.”
It is a bit of an eye sore, which is one major complaint that opposers of the wind turbines have, but I think it makes Nantucket look even better, not worse, because it is so progressive.
The turbine at the high school cost around $600,000 and it was estimated that it would pay for itself in 10 years – but it was funded mostly by private donors and not by taxpayers. From what I can tell, most people accept it now; however, that is not the case for future proposed turbines, like the Madaket Wind Turbine Project.
Madaket is a tiny beach village on the western part of Nantucket, with very few businesses and mostly residential homes. Its beautiful beaches lead right into the open water of the Atlantic. It is also the best place on the island to sit with some friends and a bottle of wine after a long summer day and catch the famous, brilliant sunsets. It is truly a tranquil place and a tight-knit community. But, over the past couple of years, tensions have been rising and neighbours have been pit against each other over the proposed wind turbines.
Many of the residents of this community fought very hard against the turbine and they were successful last spring. Those who opposed the concept didn’t want their expansive island and ocean views obstructed by an “eye sore.” They also didn’t want their property values to be negatively affected by the pervasive turbine. This proposed turbine was 325 feet, over twice the size of the high school turbine. Instead, they would like to explore other alternative energy sources that are not so pervasive, such as solar panels.
This was the most contentious situation I have seen during the two years that I have lived here. The level of acrimony between neighbours who supported or who opposed the turbine created a sad division in this small community. Many of these island residents have the resources to really rally against each other including consultants, lawyers, print ads, TV ads and social media supporting their respective causes. When the project was defeated by a town vote last spring, I didn’t feel that it was a victory for anyone.
Things seem to have settled down here, the summer has a way of doing that on this island during the eight-week, very hectic and glorious summer season. Now, new plans are on the table for a wind turbine that is smaller in scale – closer to the size of the 120-ft high school turbine. Nantucket is very lucky that many of the residents can privately donate the money to fund the turbine rather than use the town’s money. I can’t help but wonder how many communities would love to install wind turbines if their town’s coffers had the money to do so. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months; personally, I would like to see the wind turbine in place, but I say that as someone who is merely a “Wash Ashore.”
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