Top of Mind: Jim Gordon, Extended Version

Boston editor James Burnett: Let’s back all the way up. Why energy in general, as a field, before you got into what you’re doing now?

JG: I was going to BU’s School of Public Communications for a degree in broadcast and film, and actually had visions of becoming the next Stephen Spielberg. My last year at BU, I worked at Warner Communications Corporation, which was bringing cable television into the urban areas around Boston. …So I got involved in marketing cable. I got interested in technologies and how you’re able to bring in new technology to market.

The oil embargo occurred in 1973 and 1974, and I was sitting in a two-block-long gas line waiting to fill up my gas tank. I saw the dislocation that the embargo caused in terms of social disruptions, economic disruptions, and I felt that energy was going to be a very important issue going forward. And I had an entrepreneurial streak in me, and I decided to get into the energy business. So 35 years ago I founded a company called Energy Management and started doing energy-conservation projects. And over a period of time…we evolved from doing energy-conservation projects to developing independent power projects. That’s how I got into the energy business.

JB: Why this, then, as a second act? There would have been easier projects to take on. You could have retired.

Basically, we were one of the companies that pioneered the development of electric gas-fired energy development projects in New England. And that created significant benefits for the public in terms of cleaner energy, cost effectiveness, additional reliability, and we saw the electric portfolio go from zero electric gas generation to now 40 percent of New England’s power comes from natural gas-fired generation. We got into that technology sector to help diversify the portfolio, and there were a lot of natural gas-fired power plants built.

Around 2000, then, it was really time to think about the next direction of energy development in New England. …And we started to look at renewable energy because there was really hardly any renewable energy here back then. We had some hydro plants and some biomass plants, but we looked at wind. People in New England have always thought that they are at the end of the energy pipeline because we have no indigenous oil, coal, or natural gas resources. But we’re blessed with a tremendous wind resource in this region, and most of that wind lies offshore. So we felt that wind power in terms of how the technology had evolved—I mean we had been looking at it since the early ’80s, and the biggest wind turbine put out about 50 kilowatts. And over the ensuing two decades, there was a significant leap in reliability, cost effectiveness, and the production output of wind power.

…So basically we explored all over New England for a year to find the optimal site to locate a wind farm. And New England is very densely populated, and we do not have large land available. But, frankly, the wind resources are more powerful and more consistent offshore. So we located this very shallow shoal in Nantucket Sound called Horseshoe Shoal that was away from the shipping lanes, away from the ferry routes, out of the air-flight paths. It was extremely shallow, so it’s an area that most boaters avoid. And it had a reasonable proximity to transmit the electricity on cables to the grid. And it was blessed with some of the best wind resources on the East Coast.

Having lived in the town that is closest to where the Cape Wind project is—you know my family still owns a home in South Yarmouth—I was aware there hadn’t been a new electrical-generating facility built on the Cape and Islands since the 1960s. That was a plant that has the capacity to burn 300 million gallons annually of heavy imported oil. The electric demand in that region was growing rapidly; the wind resources were there.


  • Cliff

    This feel good story is missing the ugly truth. Majority of Cape and Islands is against. The Wampanoag Tribes have filed a Federal objection to protect their burial grounds. The FAA has issued a PRESUMED HAZARD on the project. Mass Historical objects. USCG has told the Mass Fisherman’s Partnership they will be kicked out once the industrial plant is built. The MMS report states that this electricity will cost twice what we pay to produce, and that is after the $70,000,000 plus in federal and state tax subsidies. There is a 40,000 gallon, ten story transformer filled with toxic oil in the middle of this project. Cape Winds OIL SPILL ANALYSIS states that there is greater than 90% chance the Cape and Islands will get hit with an oil spill in the event of a rupture. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is against the project. The Town of Barnstable and the Cape Cod Commission are suing the State to stop this project. Only 5 miles off the beaches, it is the size of the island of Manhattan New

  • Cliff

    This project will endanger millions of passengers a year that pass through these foggy waterways and air routes. The NPVA, Steamship Authority and Hy-line Cruise lines object to this project being placed in the middle of three shipping channels. The 3 airports filed appeals with the FAA to protect the 400,000 flights a year in this airspace. The FAA has confirmed radar interference and issued a “Presumed Hazard”. In the 8 years that this highly conflicted site has been fought, new technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and deep water floating wind platforms have been invented. Just like the Hindenburg, once considered the future of air travel, Cape Wind’s technology is already a dinosaur. Nantucket Sound, our beaches are the heart and soul, the economic engine that is what makes the Cape and Islands such a unique place to get away from the industrialized world we live in. It is not the place to build a 44 story, 24 square mile industrial plant. The millions of dollars this private d

  • Hans

    Good interview and a very human angle to a story that needs to be told. Let the naysayers keep talking. It is just a great pity that these folks never have learned to listen.

  • Soren

    My response to Cliff on his long comments of untrue statements shall be some facts from an off shore wind farm in another part of the world with very similar geographical conditions as Cape Cod and Nantucket Sound.
    Only 1.3 miles from Copenhagen in Denmark a 20 turbine wind farm producing 40 MW or 90 million KWh/yr has been in operation since 2000. It is close to a very busy shipping strait between Denmark and Sweden and within a few miles from Copenhagen's large international airport. The wind mills sits in 10 to 16 ft of water providing 3 % of the electricity for Copenhagen. Today more than 6,000 wind turbines in Denmark provide 20% of the energy expected to rise to 50% in 2030.
    Denmark has 5.5 million people similar to MA and is 16.500 sqmiles (MA is 8,300 sqm) Denmarks coastline is 1,000 miles (compared to 200 miles for MA.) and most of it is used for recreational use (a lot of sailing) and tourism. The country is flat and with similar vegetation and soil as Cape Cod.
    Two more

  • Soren

    Two more off shore wind farms are also in operation and three more are being planned. Denmark today gets 20% of electrical energy from windmills, 6,000 plus of them. In 2030 the wind mills are expected to cover 50%. Europe has installed 65% of worlds MW wind turbines. United States 15%. Wind technology is growing with 30%/yr
    So to all people in Cape Cod and the rest of MA wind turbine technology as alternative energy is growing and growing and growing and the way to go. Make a trip to Denmark and see for yourself

  • Peter

    The area Cape Wind wants to use is the center of Nantucket Sound. Boaters do not avoid it, they crowd into it. And, the ferries often tack into these waters in bad weather to avoid being broadside to wind and waves. Both the steamship Auithority and the private ferry operator oppose this project for safety reasons. Tell the truth, Jim.