Top of Mind: Jim Gordon

Cape Wind president, Cape Cod vacationer, clean-energy pioneer, provocateur, 56, Boston.

Photo by Christopher Churchill

Photo by Christopher Churchill

If you’re looking to put up an offshore wind farm in Massachusetts, there are more politically expedient places than smack between the beloved beaches of the Cape and Islands. But there are not, Jim Gordon insists, any superior spots from an engineering standpoint. And so, for going on eight years, the Cape Wind founder has pressed on with his fight to construct 130 turbines there. In May, the project secured its final state permit; now all that’s left is a “record of decision” from an enthusiastic-sounding Obama Interior Department. Could that come this month (to maximize the public relations tie-in to America’s new push for energy independence)? Maybe. But if not, Gordon is prepared to wait as long as it takes.

You can’t just say, “I want renewable energy, but I want it in someone else’s backyard.” It’s an interesting thing: With oil, coal, and natural gas, you can truck, pipe, or barge it. With wind, you can’t do that. You have to locate the facility where the wind is.

When the British embargoed salt during the Revolutionary War, the Cape and Islands responded—they had the salty sea and wind, and soon windmills dotted the landscape. In the 1800s, folks from New Bedford, Nantucket, and Cape Cod lit the lamps of industrial machinery by creating energy from whales. In World War II, our ports made ships to fight fascism. We have the marine and cultural heritage; we’ve responded to urgent challenges all throughout our history. Where better to do this?

Whether it’s a football stadium or an art museum on Memorial Drive, if you look at any major infrastructure project in Massachusetts, it’s not uncommon to have opposition. We have an active democracy.

I realize that our efforts are going to make it easier for the other companies that come behind us, but you know what? We need all the renewable energy we can get. That’s a good thing.

My dad owned a couple of corner grocery stores in the Allston-Brighton area, and after school or on weekends I would go and work there. It was a great education. You learn how to deal with people.

I understand there are people who have a fear of the unknown. I understand there is a resistance to change. I understand that people may lash out if they’re concerned about their property values.

The most overriding environmental threat to the Cape and Islands is climate change. We’re talking about a low-lying community. We’re already seeing the impacts: rising sea levels, more intense and frequent hurricanes and storms. There’s a sad irony here that the “not in my backyard” crowd is fighting a project that is actually going to help mitigate some of those threats.

No matter how unfounded the criticism may be, I just don’t take it personally.

I have great respect for [Cape Wind foe] Senator Kennedy. I had a meeting with him. It was very amicable. I’m only hoping the senator will recognize that Massachusetts wants a renewable-energy future.

We’ve invested a lot of our careers and significant years in this project. And a lot of money—many many many many many many many many many many many many many millions of dollars.

There’s also a lot of waiting for things: responses and reports. It comes in fits and starts.

Patience has been a major requirement.

We’ve crawled and walked. We’ve evolved. But I think we literally are inches from the goal line.

Even those opponents who have invested a good deal in opposing this project, I think once it’s up and running and they see that a lot of their concerns and fears haven’t materialized, they will embrace it and be proud of it.

I’ve lived in the town that’s closest to where the Cape Wind project is. My family still owns a home in South Yarmouth. When I visit the Cape now and I look out on the horizon, I imagine these small specks on the horizon. I can just see them gracefully spinning, quietly.

For me, the victory celebration will be walking on the beach that my dad used to take me to and looking out—and hoping that it’s a clear day so I can see it in the first place.


  • 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 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.

  • 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 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 an inefficient 44 story, 24 square mile industrial plant. It will never be built.

  • Barbara

    Cape Wind would create a public safety hazard as an efficient bird killing machine that would decimate heritage marine trades in return for unreliable wind energy.

    For 6.8 GW of wind for ISO NE, rate and taxpayer additional funding of up to $3.9 billion for grid upgrades,(DOE source), is required for wind.

    17 state and federal agencies are conducting hardware specific studies of the Cape Wind "discontinued" GE 3.6 MW wind turbine that IS Cape Wind. Taxpayers have already funded the work and product, 4,000 pages, as the MMS Cape Wind draft Environmental Impact Study, when the featured turbine is "discontinued". Cape Wind, a mythical wind project, is wasting millions in taxpayer dollars, now. People cannot afford to subsidize the equivalent of 77% of construction at $2 billion, only to pay 2 times the price of current energy for offshore Cape Wind.

    Jim Gordon is a brilliant salesman pitching his tax sheltering phantom project. Don't fall for it as when it sounds too good

  • Barbara

    cont…to be true, it usually is.

    As Big Dig Whistleblower Christy Mihos says:

    "If you liked the Big Dig, you'll love Cape Wind."

  • peter

    This is a dreadful interview. Too bad Burnett chose not to become familiar with the actual issues. One might almost think Jim Gordon owns Boston Magazine.
    Cape Cod does not need outsiders lying about us.

  • Patrick

    Well its clear the Alliance has been busy here. Go take your NIMBYism somewhere else, your case is built on a deck of cards, and there is not a darn thing left you can do to stop the project. I will personally rejoice the day these turbines go up as a triumph of the democratic system, a system that, at least in this case, not even the wealthy and privileged can hijack. To all those elite out there, there is a new generation of young people that will bury you.

  • Monica

    During the America’s Power Factuality Tour, we stopped by Duke Energy’s Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana and saw Duke’s clean coal technology project for ourselves. Once it’s completed (it’s on schedule for 2012), this IGCC plant will be one of the cleanest coal-based power plants in the world, producing 10 times as much power as the existing unit with 45 percent less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced.

  • Robert

    I own a 36 foot sailboat and sail in these waters and believe that wind power is in keeping with the historical context of the area and that turbines are graceful looking. The counter arguments I have seen are all bogus. I would support a counter suit to make the delayers at this point pay a penalty for damages for their actions.