Smooth Sailing in a Democracy
By Liz Argo
On February 2 there was a wonderful example of democracy in action at a Cape Cod Commission hearing. A subcommittee recently finished review of a wind project in Bourne with the resulting recommendation from the subcommittee that the full Commission deny the permit for the wind project. At the public hearing to review this recommendation, however, thanks to the democratic process, evidence came forward to show that the subcommittee’s conclusions were based on speculative and inconsistent analyses. Thanks to the public hearing process, the full Cape Cod Commission was able to receive necessary testimony and see the error in the subcommittee’s recommendation for the denial.
One evidenced inconsistency lay in the subcommittee’s conclusion that a coolant mineral oil for the wind project was 100% toxic, whereas in a previous subcommittee judgment, the same coolant for a photovoltaic project was found to be only 1% toxic. This inconsistency between judgments for wind and photovoltaics was troubling to members of the full Commission.
Further inconsistencies were revealed through testimony from three state representatives. The chair of the MA Energy Facilities Siting Board, a legal counselor from the state’s energy office, and a representative from the Clean Energy Center all came to point out the subcommittee’s poor interpretation of the project’s value as a clean energy resource. The three experts pointed out that the benefits of the project are consistent with the mandate from the state and the requirements of the region.
A letter signed by Senator Keating and Senator Kerry was also read, further pointing out the vital role of wind energy projects such as the one proposed.
The apparent misunderstanding of the energy benefits to be derived from the proposed wind project was held up against a previous Commission subcommittee’s understanding of renewable energy benefits when assessing a photovoltaic (PV) project. Expert testimony pointed out that the energy benefits would be the same for both PV and wind.
Finally, testimony highlighted the speculative nature of the subcommittee’s purported project detriments. Numerous testimonies confirmed that to deny, based on the “possible” detriments that were described in the subcommittee’s analysis, would be unacceptable and inconsistent with Cape Cod Commission standards.
The Commissioners listened attentively and asked significant questions as the critical information came forward. Like a boat that can adjust for smoother sailing by heeding the telltales tied to the mast stays, the full Cape Cod Commission can now adjust its decision by heeding the expert testimony from the hearing. The poorly informed recommendation from the Commission’s subcommittee can now be assessed with all the evidence and the full Cape Cod Commission can make its informed decision.
Thanks to the democratic process, we can expect smooth sailing and a decision on the proposed wind project consistent with the Commission’s mission of maintaining a balanced relationship between environmental protection and economic progress for Cape Cod.
Liz Argo is president of the Cape and Islands Wind Information Network and is employed as an energy consultant.