Robert Kennedy raises hypocrisy to new heights

RFK Jr., in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal
Urges Abandoning Cape Wind for Canadian Hydro He Once Opposed

By Michael Conathan

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Waterkeeper Alliance, has once again lambasted the Cape Wind project - a proposal to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod. Ironically, he placed his hit-piece in the Wall Street Journal, a Rupert Murdoch media outlet that News Corp has "turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner's conservative views," as Joe Nocera explained in "The Journal Becomes Fox-ified."

Cape Wind has received all of its federal permits and is on track to begin construction and become America's first offshore wind farm. Kennedy's hatred for the project - which would sit within eyeshot of his family's famed compound in Hyannisport, MA - is longstanding, but in this piece he has found a new mask to cover the true motivation behind his distaste: looking out for the good citizen ratepayers of Massachusetts and attempting to portray Cape Wind as a "rip-off."

It is simply impossible to portray Kennedy's latest salvo in the ongoing battle over Cape Wind as anything less than utter hypocrisy. Kennedy suggests that the project, which has undergone more than a decade of environmental and economic review, could be supplanted by "renewable" power from Canadian hydroelectricity - the same alternative that has been proposed to replace Vermont Yankee's nuclear energy. And yet in 2004 as a senior attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council, Kennedy penned a piece titled "Hydro is Breaking Our Hearts." His article lamented that hydro development in Canada had "turned pristine rivers into power corridors, ancient lakes into holding tanks, and a sacred homeland into an industrial complex."

Yet Canadian hydropower is precisely the solution he proposes to replace Cape Wind's green electrons. Apparently his own Hyannisport sacred homeland is somehow ... more sacred?

Kennedy's opposition would almost be defensible if it wasn't so tragically misguided. In addition to ignoring the environmental problems hydropower inevitably poses, he also turns a blind eye toward Cape Wind's potential to jump start an entire industry in the United States, creating thousands of jobs and leading the way to a new green energy economy. Cape Wind's investors have put over a decade of effort and millions of dollars into making this project a reality - its failure would be a major setback to the U.S. wind industry.

And it's not as if offshore wind is new technology. As a CAP report released last month detailed, there are over 3,000 megawatts of generation capacity installed and powering homes in Europe and China, and more than 45,000 more megawatts have been permitted worldwide.

Cape Wind would be the first such project in America, and it is well established that first-of-its-kind technology can be more expensive, but costs come down as technology evolves. CAP's report detailed this effect and outlined how wind power puts downward pressure on other energy costs. Kennedy mentioned neither of these positive price impacts in his piece.

In fact, showing a fundamental misunderstanding for the role of offshore wind in America's green energy future, Kennedy short-sightedly referred to it as a "single project." The reality, however, is that one project paves the way for future projects. If no one is willing to step up and advance the first project, we will be stuck looking for the "new ways to reduce carbon" that Kennedy himself has called for, without taking advantage of one of the most readily available, commercially-scalable means of reducing our nation's carbon footprint.

Kennedy's op-ed goes on to throw several more tired obstacles in Cape Wind's path, all of which have been resoundingly debunked:

  • “Protecting the safety of boats and planes”: The United States Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration have declared Cape Wind to be safe for navigation of both boats and aircraft, both of which were requirements before the Department of Interior could issue Cape Wind’s final permits, which it did earlier this year.
  • Referring to “Cape Wind’s heavy-handed backers”:  This accusation is simply laughable. Cape Wind’s backers include the 76% of Massachusetts residents who, in a November 2010 poll said they were willing to pay higher electricity rates for renewable energy, and the 57% of Cape Cod residents who, in 2009, said they supported the project. Mind you, these are the very same people Kennedy purports to be sticking up for in this piece. Meanwhile, among the project’s main opponents is none other than Bill Koch, brother of David and Charles Koch who are the leading funders of disinformation and political action against greenhouse reductions and clean energy.  Nobody has a heavier hand than the Kochs.
  • “A devastating blow to tourism and property values”: Countless studies have shown that wind farms in Europe have actually had a positive effect on tourism in nearby communities. As a result, Hy-Line, one of Cape Cod and the Islands’ ferry companies, and a one-time vocal opponent of the project, has entered into a partnership with Cape Wind to create eco-tours of the facility, once constructed.
  • Ultimately, Kennedy comes back around to his old argument against Canadian hydropower – that the project will desecrate “sacred Native American land, including land now under shallow water in the Sound.” In the end, aesthetics will always come down to a matter of personal opinion.  But as carbon emissions continue to drive global temperatures and sea levels higher, Kennedy might do better to concern himself with the land that, for now at least, still rises above the waves.

 Without Cape Wind steering the course for an offshore wind industry in this country, his own sacred compound will face a greater likelihood of meeting the same fate as the Wampanoags’ ancient home on Horseshoe Shoal (see “Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100“). Perhaps that’s the one argument that still stands a chance of getting through to him.

Michael Conathan, CAP’s Director of Ocean Policy

For more, see Cape Wind’s “Response to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Op Ed in Wall Street Journal,” which notes:

While Mr. Kennedy has commercial involvement with solar power (a needed part of our energy mix), in New England solar power costs two to three times more than offshore wind power. Yet Mr. Kennedy offers no objection to solar projects….
Kennedy neglects to mention that Massachusetts, unlike Vermont, would require new electric transmission projects through the northern forests of three states to bring in significant additional supplies of hydro power from Quebec, a very costly and uncertain prospect.

Mr. Kennedy also ignores the fact that over the past 14 years Massachusetts has consistently set energy policies that do not regard imported large scale Canadian hydro power as ‘renewable’ power worthy of pubic incentives. Rather, Massachusetts has sought to create jobs in Massachusetts by nurturing new clean energy industries closer to home that can make us more energy , while diversifying our industry and energy supply.

Notably, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MDPU) carefully considered the objections put forward by Kennedy in its review of Cape Wind’s contract with National Grid. The MDPU stated as follows in its 350 page decision approving Cape Wind’s contract: “[I]t is abundantly clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable resources. We find that these benefits outweigh the costs of the project.”

The MDPU estimated that the bill impact from Cape Wind to electric consumers in the contract would amount to a bill increase of only $1.25 for a typical residential customer, an amount that amount would be even less if fossil fuels rise in the future. And Cape Wind avoids the high environmental, public health and national security external costs of fossil fuel against which Mr. Kennedy has long campaigned.

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