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.