President Obama's energy policy has been a pretty tough slog. His $36 billion proposal for nuclear power plant construction took heat from both environmentalists and conservatives. Ditto his decision to open coastal areas for offshore oil drilling.
We are about to learn if there's lift beneath a crucial third pillar of the president's plan: wind power. Safer and more eco-friendly than nuclear plants and offshore drilling, wind turbines might seem to be an easy political sell. But at the end of 2009, wind power accounted for a mere 1.9% of the electricity production in the United States, and the vast majority of wind turbines are onshore.
Now, the uphill battle for energy reform has reached a turning point with the impending administration ruling on Massachusetts' long-delayed Cape Wind project, the nation's largest proposed offshore wind farm and a primer on what can go wrong with the politics of wind energy.
The Boston developer who has sunk millions into a proposed 130-turbine farm on shallow shoals of Nantucket Sound claims it will offset 75 percent of the gas and coal-based electricity use on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard. Polls show the project has broad public support. Nonetheless, nine years after its initial proposal, progress on Cape Wind is stalled. A ruling that could break the stalemate is expected in the coming weeks from Interior Sec. Ken Salazar. And the administration's willingness to use the same muscle it's been flexing on health care and education reform could have political ramifications well beyond Cape Cod.