In a marine ecosystem often referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” where generation of unlimited amounts of this clean renewable energy are believed possible, some would-be ratepayers seem to care much as much about what’s on their horizons as their utility bills.

Such thinking is evident on Nantucket Sound, where Cape Wind Associates proposes to install 130 3.6-megawatt wind turbines in a 24-square-mile portion of Horseshoe Shoal with an estimated output of 468 megawatts.

A great idea in general, the opponents would say, but not a power plant that should be in plain sight nor inflicted upon sea ducks, fish, marine mammals, ferry boat captains or commuter aircraft pilots, not to mention a missile detection system at Otis Air Force Base.

The air blowing the hottest in opposition comes from those closest to the turbines — including Nantucket, where 61 percent of voters in the 2006 town elections answered “no” to non-binding Question Eight on the ballot asking whether they supported the project. Blustery retorts also emanate from Martha’s Vineyard and mainland fishing ports, where fishermen decry the potential loss of fertile fishing grounds, and from wealthy property owners on Cape Cod, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, who don’t want to see an “industrial park” from their beaches. The ever-vigilant and vocal Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound speaks of the Sound as marine sanctuary, keeping the pressure on and most certainly strategizing its inevitable lawsuit if and when Cape Wind gets all its permits.

So where can green-minded southern New England residents tap wind power? That the three year-round island communities of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island each have some form of energy action committee working on renewable energy solutions is a sign that not-in-my-backyard-ism burns brightest on seasonal back porches.

Nantucket’s Energy Study Committee is currently examining island sites for wind turbines for local use. The Electric Utility Task Force for the Town of New Shoreham, R.I., on Block Island, is pursuing a $3.9 million sustainable energy grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to, among two other projects, put up a wind turbine on the island to generate 600 megawatt hours.

Block Island, with a population of around 1,000, still powers up with its own diesel generators operated by the Block Island Power Company (BPIC) that produces four megawatts in peak summer periods. However, that could change should a recently proposed state wind energy project of 106 turbines less than a mile west of Block Island come to fruition.

In Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, the board of selectmen’s energy advisory committee, led by chairman Kitt Johnson, formed a partnership with Nantucket that could yield a wind energy installation for Nantucket and a tidal plant for Edgartown at the same location south of Tuckernuck Island in the vicinity of Muskeget Channel. The joint project would work best if both plants shared the same three-square-mile area so transmission line installation costs and use could be shared, with tidal power going to Edgartown and wind to Nantucket. Currently, Nantucket’s application for a ground lease for its wind turbines is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Minerals Management Service (MMS).
Johnson said that this inter-island energy project is a great deal more palatable to residents because it is outside of Nantucket Sound for wind and on the ocean floor for tidal energy.

The MMS is cogitating on comments from four regional public hearings held in March following the January release of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on Cape Wind’s project. The deadline for its final ruling is the end of this year or early next, with Cape Wind planning to be online in 2010. Edgartown’s tidal project, after receiving a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on March 31 to explore potential sites, now has one year to do environmental impact and site analysis to see if it is “economically feasible and environmentally likely” that it can secure the 31 required permits.

How much power Edgartown extracts from its tide engines — Johnson is hoping for 20 megawatts — depends on how many are installed and the speed of tidal currents, which need to be running at least five knots. A private tidal energy installation proposed by Washington, D.C.-based Oceana Energy Company for Vineyard Sound is already prospecting for sites to place 50 to 100 tide engines to generate 25 to 100 megawatts.
Any amount tidal energy that would displace wind power in Nantucket Sound would also please the Alliance.

“We like tidal,” said Alliance CEO and President Glenn Wattley. who wants the MMS to consider tidal energy in its site comparisons for Cape Wind’s project. “One thing good about tidal is that the water has so much more mass in it than the air, so with a little bit of water you get a lot of energy. We’re for keeping power out of the Sound.”

That’s why the Alliance is also cautiously supporting a deepwater wind energy proposal from Blue H USA for 120 floating anchored turbines 23 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard in 167 feet of water that could produce 420 megawatts.