Is there a literary trope that draws more universal ire than the spoiled brat? There can’t be a single person on the face of the planet who empathizes with the likes of Eric Cartman, Wonka golden ticket holder Veruca Salt, or any of the charming young heroines of MTV’s twisted reality show, “My Super Sweet 16.” So it is with the wealthiest and most outspoken opponent of the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm.
In a lengthy interview in the spring issue of Massachusetts-based CommonWealth magazine, petroleum coke magnate Bill Koch went full on climate-denier and finally came clean about his long-standing opposition to the Cape Wind project. The reason he has spent millions of dollars to block the project comes down to one simple point: he doesn’t want to ruin the view from his Cape Cod waterfront estate.
In the interview, Koch called the project “visual pollution” and explained that he “was buying more property on the Cape for a family compound and the windmills would interfere with the aesthetics.”
Would this be a good point to mention that the symbol of Oyster Harbors, the gated community in which Koch’s Osterville compound is located, is actually a windmill?
While Cape Wind proponents have long assumed NIMBY-ism was at the root of Koch’s position, this is the first time he’s come out and admitted it so publicly, even actually saying the words, “I didn’t want it in my backyard.”
Unfortunately for Koch, he doesn’t have final say over the project, because the wind farm won’t actually be built in the backyard of his compound, though it will be (barely) visible from his veranda. This visual simulation shows what the turbines would look like from Cotuit, the town next to Koch’s.
Clearly Koch believes this is a visual blight worth spending millions to prevent. As of 2006, Koch had donated at least $1.5 million to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an organization dedicated to stopping the Cape Wind project. Additionally, as of 2009 his corporation, OxBow Energy, was paying the $150,000 salary of the group’s executive director. And in the most recent interview, Koch said he had been supporting the group “more and more.”
If Koch were truly concerned about the future of his backyard, he might want to change his tone on climate change. Sea level rise and storm surges from increased extreme weather events have wreaked havoc on coastal property in his neighborhood. This winter’s storms caused massive erosion on parts of Cape Cod and on the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard, where owners of one cliffside mansion are trying to convince the town to let them relocate the house they built in 2006 after losing over 200 feet of property to Nantucket Sound in the last year alone.
In the interview, Koch laughs off the environmental and climate benefits of Cape Wind and renewable energy in general, calling them “BS arguments,” and delving into a meandering climate denier diatribe that reads like a jumbled greatest hits, touching on everything from “a volcano belching” to redirection of the Gulf Stream to the Gaia theory.
Yet, like Veruca Salt whose daddy’s money wasn’t enough to buy her a golden egg-laying goose, even Koch’s billions won’t save his property when the Sound begins to rise into his literal backyard.
While the long-term prospects of his family compound remain very much in question, the Cape Wind battle is one Koch seems poised to lose. The company has all its federal and state permits in hand, has power purchase agreements in place for more than three-quarters of its electricity, and last month named a Japanese bank as its lead financier for the project. Construction could begin on the project before the end of the year, which would make the project eligible for a key federal tax credit.
And while Koch claims offshore wind is little better than a boondoggle that could only be economically viable because of “fat contracts” or “government subsidies,” a recent study conducted by the Brattle Group found that even in the absence of federal support, offshore wind development would result in an average monthly rate increase to consumers of as little as $0.25.
At this point, all that stands in the way of the nation’s first offshore wind farm is a handful of frivolous lawsuits, many filed by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, and most of which simply rehash old points that have already been adjudicated in favor of the developer. Koch’s only remaining tactic is, as he puts it, “delay, delay, delay.”
In short, he’s falling back on the last option available to the tantrum-throwing toddler: holding his breath until he either gets what he wants or passes out. With Cape Wind on the cusp of a successful conclusion to its decade-long effort to bring local renewable energy to Massachusetts, the time is now to redouble efforts to ensure this tyrant doesn’t get his way.
Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress, and a former employee of the Oyster Harbors Club in Osterville, Massachusetts.