Jul 25 2013

Lessons from ‘Cape Spin!’

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Cape Spin, a documentary by Robbie Gemmel and John Kirby neutrally follows the back and forth struggle between opponents and supporters of the proposed 130-turbine wind farm to be placed in Nantucket Sound. Having primarily learned about the environmental impacts and the logistical side of finding suitable locations for wind farms in an academic setting, I found this documentary to be an incredible asset for explaining the social aspects that make alternative energy development so difficult.

The film begins at the very start of the dispute, back in 2001 when the director of Cape Wind, James Gordon publicly announced the planned development of 170 turbines in Nantucket Sound. Through interviews with local residents of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard as well as lobbyists (both for and against) and reporters following the story, the film directors are able to show the complex relationships between the public, the politicians, and the developers. Over the ten years that the film follows, the audience sees the spectrum from Congressional floor battles, New England Yacht races, alternative proposals for clean energy, and the tension between the federal government and the Wampanoag tribe.  It concludes in 2011 with the Obama administration’s Department of the Interior’s announcement that Cape Wind would be granted permission to continue development.



The New York Times professes its lukewarm approval in their May review citing the film’s ‘studied neutrality’ as a negative quality. The co-director himself comments below the article rebutting the claim:

We suppose our only option in the future is to hold the hand of our audiences while we beat them over the head with our point of view.- John Kirby

The staunch neutrality of the film illustrates for audiences the multitude of public and private interests at stake with the development of alternative energy as opposed to similar documentaries that have an obvious bias, such as Gaslands (2010) which was firmly anti-fracking. ‘Cape Spin’ highlights the importance of involving locals in the entire process when dramatically altering the infrastructure of an area. Cape Cod fishermen voice well-founded concerns that the construction in the sound, particularly Horseshoe Shoals will significantly impact their livelihood. Other opponents cite how the introduction of a more expensive form of energy will raise the overall price for consumers. All of these are relevant concerns and ‘Cape Spin!’ has done a fantastic job of balancing the political voices with these relatable worries, particularly for anyone living in a coastal area where offshore wind may be developed.

Filming wrapped up in late 2010 and 2011, so what has happened since then?

The Cape Wind project website claims they will begin construction before the end of 2013 and there was a recent announcement that it has received $200 million in funding from PensionDenmark.  Siemens is backing the development as well. However with 10 years of dispute as precedent, there are still new opponents seemingly coming out of the woodwork to continue fueling the debate. ‘Cape Spin’ skillfully captures the many issues facing offshore wind energy development, still in its early days. Interest is gaining momentum in Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Cape Spin! is an important documentary for alternative energy enthusiasts, students, and developers to watch. It is witty and engaging, but most importantly, it presents all sides of the issue with equal weight. A common complaint has been that the 3rd option, of more local, co-op, or individual wind energy development rather than power company investments, was not given enough attention. For the size of the project, no local municipality could foot a  $2.6 billion dollar energy project, so the alternative option of going local with offshore wind energy of that scale seems unreasonable at this time.  More people need to consider their stances on these issues before it becomes an battle, and developers must do all they can to work with the residents of these areas of interest.



Burr, Ty “Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle” June 15, 2013 Boston Globe:

Cape Wind Project Timeline c 2012

Gold, Daniel M. “Battle of Bullhorns as Wind Project Beckons” May 16, 2013 NY Times 

Guillen, Alex “After much delay, offshore wind set to sail.” June 28, 2013 Politico

Lindsay, Jay “Cape Wind gets $200M investment from Danish Fund” July 17, 2013 R&D

Marcacci, Silvia “Virginia’s Coastline Could Soon be Home to 2GW of Offshore Wind” July 24, 2013 Clean Technica

Sullivan, Jack “A New Mysterious Cape Wind Foe” July 11, 2013 Commonwealth 

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