A Frank Take

Their Views On Offshore Wind Are All About the Views


A simulated view from the Cliff Walk in Newport, R.I., of Revolution Wind turbines. (Real Offshore Wind)

It should come as no surprise that Rhode Island’s epicenter of wealth and excess is unwilling to put up with even the slightest inconvenience — no bigger than the size of an average thumb — to help address the climate crisis.

For the most part, the wealthy and the privileged don’t care that Black, brown, and poor white communities shoulder the burden of our nation’s energy production and the associated impacts of the climate crisis. They fail to recognize the ability to remain unchanged in this time of increasing torment is an advantage not shared equally. They believe they have the money and power to escape the worst, so screw everybody and everything else. Ocean views matter more than the lives of others. Extravagant history is more important than the future.

That is essentially the theme of federal lawsuits recently filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Preservation Society of Newport County. On Nov. 22, a few days after an estimated 1.1 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, the nonprofit that aggrandizes the lavish Gilded Age mansions of robber barons announced its concern with the Revolution and South Fork offshore wind projects.

The lawsuits allege the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) “improperly approved wind farms that will damage historic resources within the City of Newport.”

They’re talking about ocean views being ruined.

In reality, the damages that will be worsened by our continued reliance on the burning of fossil fuels — sea level rise and flooding, for example — should be a far greater concern for a city surrounded by water.

“Federal law makes clear that the ‘viewsheds’ of historic resources are as important as bricks and mortar,” according to the Preservation Society lawsuits. “These appeals seek to preserve historic and pristine views from industrial-scale development.”

Offshore wind turbines are visible if they are closer than 40 miles away. However, between 25 and 40 miles from shore they become hard to distinguish, according to Real Offshore Wind, a collaboration of professors, researchers, and students from Brown University and the University of Rhode Island studying the impacts off offshore wind. (The Real Offshore Wind website also addresses a host of other questions about offshore wind.)

The image above depicts a simulation of the wind turbines’ appearance from a section of the Cliff Walk for Revolution Wind, the offshore wind project that will be closest to the New England coastline, nearly 15 miles away from Rhode Island. The simulation was provided by the developer, Ørsted, to BOEM for the project’s final environmental impact statement. The maximum number of wind turbines planned was originally 100 but is now 65, spaced a nautical mile (1.2 miles) apart.

From the shore, the project’s 65 turbines will appear to be about 2 inches tall, roughly the length of an adult human thumb.

“We support green energy,” Trudy Coxe, the Preservation Society’s CEO, says in the press release announcing the lawsuits. Sure, as long as no renewable energy project of size is sited anywhere near Bellevue Avenue, Ocean Drive, or Ochre Point.

She goes on to say that, “Green energy projects need not come at the unnecessary loss to our community’s irreplaceable character and sense of place. For more than a century millions of people have visited Newport to walk Cliff Walk, enjoy our beautiful beaches and tour Ocean Drive. These historic resources deserve the due process mandated by federal law.”

In March 2022 coastal erosion knocked out 30 feet of the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile paved trail that winds its way along robber baron opulence. Nine months later, a smaller section of the path was washed away. Sea level in Newport has risen about 6 inches over the past 50 years and is projected to rise another 10-12 inches in the next 30 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The city’s Cliff Walk webpage notes that due to structural damage to a section of the path, detours will be in place between Narragansett Avenue and Webster Street “for the foreseeable future.”

So while city officials continue to ponder whether to continuously rebuild the Cliff Walk, at taxpayer expense, or retreat, let’s delay renewable energy projects by filing lawsuits because some monied views could be slighted by a sea of thumbs a dozen or so miles away.

Talk about misplaced priorities. Continue to degrade the atmosphere that has allowed our species to survive and thrive to protect viewsheds for the well-heeled. Let lesser communities continue to sacrifice for the benefit of the self-centered.

After the lawsuits were announced, a former Newport City Council member emailed her anti-wind crew this message: “Surprising and great news!!!!”

The 11-term council member, who lives in a neighborhood that sits between Ocean Drive and the Newport Country Club, has long represented the interests of splendor.

A group of Rhode Island organizations representing the local environmental, scientific, and labor communities sent a letter Nov. 27 to Coxe in response to the Preservation Society’s appeals, calling on her “to immediately withdraw” the lawsuits.

They sent the letter “because the visual effects of tourists and Newport residents having to see offshore wind farms a dozen miles off the coast are simply not comparable to the impacts of the climate crisis and continued fossil fuel use. … The project’s jobs and many other benefits would be sabotaged by the lawsuit you have filed, as would the future that our children inherit. To do so in the name of historical preservation is dishonorable. Your action reflects the energy privilege available to only some members of our society.”

Full disclosure: I am not an agent or paid influencer for the offshore wind industry. Like all energy sources, offshore wind comes with concerns and impacts that need to be studied and addressed. It must be sited responsibly. But offshore wind, like all other renewable energy sources, has to be part of our energy future if we want to power society and kick our nasty addiction to fossil fuels.

Offshore wind projects need to be transparent, and the companies, many of them closely tied to the fossil fuel industry, should be scrutinized. Turbines shouldn’t be carelessly plopped into the sea in some willy-nilly fashion. But these entreaties calling for no offshore wind, at least not in the waters close to where I live, are uncaring and ignorant.

In the Preservation Society’s lawsuit press release, Will Cook, a partner at a Washington, D.C.-based law firm specializing in historic preservation and the Newport nonprofit’s counsel for offshore wind, says:

“Our federal laws must be enforced as Congress intended and all adverse effects minimized or mitigated as required by law. In rushing to issue permits for these massive energy development projects, BOEM skipped steps and failed to meet its legal obligations. Our appeals highlight BOEM’s errors and ask that the process be done correctly. The people of Newport County deserve better.”

Early last year, the Cultural Heritage Partners attorney suggested to the Newport City Council that the City-by-the-Sea was sitting on a multimillion-dollar jackpot, according to a story in The Newport Daily News.

“The technology as it changes is in the direction of taller and taller wind turbines,” Cook is quoted. “Newport has historically enjoyed unimpeded ocean views similar to the island of Nantucket, which is also one of our clients.”

He told the council his law firm negotiated “a financial mitigation settlement in the form of a community benefits fund that will help offset some of the costs of adverse effects that Vineyard Wind is going to cause.”

Those adverse impacts basically amount to minimally altered viewscapes for the inhabitants of the wealthy enclave and the temporary inconvenience caused by burying power cables. (Vineyard Wind is 15 miles south of Nantucket and 35 miles from mainland Massachusetts.)

Spider webs of methane and oil pipelines, electricity lines, and telecommunication cables — both buried and above ground — crisscross the United States.

The Vineyard Wind developer had offered Nantucket $350,000 to offset those inconveniences, but Cook bragged, “We were able to get that number up to the range of $34.4 million.”

The City Council voted unanimously to hire Cultural Heritage Partners to represent Newport.

And we wonder why renewable energy costs are often higher.

Fossil fuel corporations aren’t litigated into paying even $350,000 — never mind $34 million — to the residents of Cancer Alley in Louisiana, those living in the two neighborhoods that abut the Port of Providence, and the countless other voiceless communities that bear the brunt of U.S. power-producing pollution.

In fact, those marginalized communities and the natural world will be experiencing more destruction. This year, which is extremely likely to be the hottest on record, the United States is poised to extract more oil and methane than ever before.

This country’s status as the world’s leading oil and gas behemoth has only strengthened during the past 12 months, with the latest federal government forecast showing a record 12.9 million barrels of crude oil, more than double what was produced a decade ago, to be extracted in 2023, according to a recent story in The Guardian.

Cultural Heritage Partners also represents the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation (SELF), which owns and manages Block Island’s most historic structure. The New Shoreham-based organization puts the self in selfishness.

“A world-renowned symbol of Block Island’s rich cultural heritage, the Southeast Light is among numerous historic resources that the government has failed to protect from what BOEM itself concedes are significant negative impacts of the industrialization of the seascape,” according to SELF’s press release announcing its two lawsuits.

The further industrialization of the ocean — from renewable energy development to oil and methane extraction to commercial fishing — is a concern that certainly needs to be acknowledged and accounted for, but how does that impact a lighthouse? Are the wind turbines going to find the warning light annoying and attack? The Revolution Wind turbines will be about 15 miles east of New Shoreham and the South Fork turbines will be nearly 20 miles southeast, so the chances of one falling on the Block Island beacon are slim.

SELF’s lawsuits note Block Island “is awakening to the reality that the number of visible turbines off its coast will soon grow from five to as many as 599.”

The organization’s executive director, Lisa Nolan, emphasized the need to balance renewable energy with the importance of preserving Block Island’s sense of place and its economy, which relies significantly on heritage tourism.

“It seems unfair to place all potential risks on our historic community while the developer reaps the rewards,” she said.

SELF should be more self-aware about the impacts the changing climate is having on Southeast Light. Built in 1873, the lighthouse was moved back 300 feet from the Block Island shoreline 120 years later. It will likely have to be moved again.

Severe erosion along Mohegan Bluffs is an extreme example of what is occurring along Block Island’s coastline. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy severed Corn Neck Road. The road, which serves as a sort of main artery to essential services on the island, is now prone to increased flooding from tides, storms, and sea level rise.

Fossil fuel CEOs and shareholders have long reaped the rewards of their products’ decades-long destructive behavior, which is having a far greater impact on Block Island than any wind turbine will. Last year the world’s largest fossil fuel corporations enjoyed record-breaking profits. Five companies alone — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies — reported a total of nearly $200 billion in profits.

While fossil fuel executives count their cash, lead global climate talks, and serve in the U.S. Cabinet, the world is incurring significant financial losses caused by prolonged drought, extreme flooding, record heat waves, and dwindling drinking water supplies.

People are being left homeless by extreme weather. Disasters, many caused directly or indirectly from the burning of fossil fuels, triggered 32.6 million new internal displacements in 2022, making it the highest figure in a decade and 41% higher than the annual average of the past decade.

But, sure, having to deal with faintly adjusted ocean views is unfair.

To his credit, Dr. Gerry Abbott, chairman of the SELF board, cuts to the chase.

“Block Island is obviously not anti-Wind Energy,” he says in the Nov. 22 press release. “We were the first town in the US to host a fully built offshore wind farm. But imagining the visual impact of an 11,000% increase in the number of visible turbines off our Coast — and knowing they will remain for the next 30 years — is nothing short of stunning … a complete industrialization of our ocean view.”

Well, at least this anti-wind pushback didn’t hide behind faux concern for whales.

Note: I didn’t want to write another column about anti-wind hysterics, but the selfishness infuriates me. I wish they would spend their time and energy actually trying to help address the worldwide geophysical transformation our unabating burning of fossil fuels has set in motion. If you are interested, the other two columns I have written about this issue can be found here and here.

Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.


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  1. I was out last Sunday looking at Harlequin Ducks and other seabirds from Beavertail. I noticed that I was able to see one of the new turbines and another under construction. But I needed to be looking through 10-power binoculars before I noticed them at all in the haze. Much more apparent on the horizon to the south were two very large ships …. one was some sort of tanker or cargo ship, and the other was one of the car carriers that brings loads of German-made automobiles into Davisville. Where is the outrage on the part of the Newport upper crust about big ships spoiling their views? Will that be their next target? Or would that hit too close to home by raising the price of their next new Audi?

  2. Speaking as a Newporter, I am going to be so proud for a clear day when I look out and see those wind turbines! Thank you for this excellent opinion piece and for sharing the well-articulated letter sent to the Preservation Society.

  3. “(The Real Offshore Wind website also addresses a host of other questions about offshore wind.)” The far right tab of that website establishes a bias by this source. They are also citation poor on several articles while claiming to demystify the issues. They also miss many salient points both on the pro and con side. A good start but they really need to understand O&M better. And Timmermans is advertising skiing in the face of Climate change when ski resort devastate the local ecosystems by unbalancing the local water cycle. So much for forward thinking when it comes to his personal devotion to fighting climate change and promoting JEDI ideals.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. When I first looked at the picture, I thought the caption was mistaken and there were no turbines in the photo. Only after I enlarged it, could I see some tiny little bumps in the distance. I’m disgusted by the lawsuit as well. These people just don’t get it, do they? This is ignorance at it’s best.

  5. I’m not only appalled by this anti-wind power lawsuit, I also surprised that long time environmentalist Trudy Coxe went along with it, she should have seen how inappropriate this would seem to almost everybody.
    But I also caution about Frank’s messaging emphasizing “Black, brown and poor communities” being most affected by climate change. Not only is this debatable, but to get the buy-in needed to get meaningful action from the broader electorate beyond those in environmental and civil rights communities I have long thought it better to say that with climate change we are all in it together – which is also truly the case when considering those affected by sea level rise, wildfires, suburban flooding, agricultural droughts, inflation and such

  6. When are you writing about living without fossil fuels? That will be a the most interesting column.
    You fall into the trap of only looking for negatives, but I am not surprised because the anti-fossil fuel crowd forgets what it takes to support their lifestyle.
    Do you know that there is no solution for radar interference by wind turbines? In 2016 the DOE said it would have a solution by 2015. They just put out a request for information on the topic that is due back in early 2024. That is for information but not a solution.
    No search and rescue within a wind farm. How many lives may that take? And even BOEM says offshore wind turbines will do nothing to improve the climate. I bet your readers don’t know that.
    Do some real research on the issues. Don’t listen to all the bought-and-paid-for Rhode Islanders.

  7. Indeed, offshore windmills will look like pretzels once a storm such as the 1938 hurricane works its path of power. Then who pays the replacement costs? Keep in mind he power of the sea and wind are indomitable in storms such as that. The windmills in the North Sea are being decomissioned after 25 years. Is that what is meant by renewable.
    A great book about the 1938 hurricane is interesting reading for those who seek to consider all the variables in the energy equation.
    The real answer is salt water, radio waves and micrograms. Consideration of all variables is invaluable in seeking alternative energy sources. Orsted, Avangrid, Eversource, BP and Shell are the rich barons you must deal with. These richies will have a direct pipeline to your wallets and bank accounts.
    By the way, has any study been conducted on the cost efficiency of the Block Island array? Let’s start there.
    Thank you for this open forum.

  8. Excellent article Frank. You always find a way to layer in some humor into your articles which I admire.

    I personally find the sight of wind towers and turbines majestic and a sign that renewable energy is on the rise.

    On recent trips to the Netherlands and China, seeing many hundreds of wind towers and turbines near the coasts signaled to me that wind power is here to stay. The USA lags in deploying wind energy, but it’s coming and accelerating. Aside from the ridiculous challenging regulatory and legal hurdles in the US to deploy wind tech, progress is happening and projects are moving forward.

    The inconvenience truths of climate change are no longer deniable. Wealthy ocean front homeowners and mansion historical society socialites have the most to loose by rising sea levels and the epic storms coming our way. Won’t be able to blame the loss of these trophy properties on wind towers, but we know they will try and blame everything but the fossil fuels.

  9. We are easily a decade behind on the science and analysis needed that BOEM hasn’t done in preparation for this, despite it being obvious and evident these issues and others were on the horizon, and there being $5+ billion dollars in lease money to fund it.

    Some nuance on the social justice issues – environmental externalities are generally priced in to living adjacent to them. So, if you live near a polluted area (or an area with a visual disamenity), your house price or rent should be lower to compensate for that. Or put in other words, you could afford a nicer place on the same budget due to the disamenity – all else equal.

    That’s not to say there is no impact, in the simplest sense the impact happens when the change occurs and it is a one-time impact based on the current and projected future pollution at that site. If projections are off, which they can be with poorly understood environmental systems, then there may be recurring value impacts later on.

  10. Nothing like cherry picking to support the agenda. I’m sure those poor folks you’re concerned with won’t mind the doubling and tripling of their electric bills. Ask the people in Europe how their electric bills have sky rocketed under the wind scam agenda. Destroying essential fish habitat and industrializing the ocean will have no impact on climate change according to the lead agency permitting this disaster. Talk to the people in Marine fisheries both federal and state off the record of course as their jobs depend on it. Building these right in the heart of North Atlantic Right Whale feeding grounds? You can’t make up how dumb this agenda is. Have we not learned anything from the damage caused by Brayton Points impact on Mt Hope Bay? from cooking everything pulled into the cooling system? So let’s do it again in the ocean?

  11. Why would search and rescue not happen within a windfarm? The Coast Guard has not said that – just that they needed to be able to plan for that, and that each project will require individual planning (https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/uscg_-_search_and_rescue_operations_near_offshore_wind_energy_projects_0.pdf). If they are able to operate within offshore petroleum platform areas (https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/maps/gulf-data-atlas/atlas.htm?plate=Offshore%20Structures), why won’t they be able to within windfarms? And regarding hurricane damage, the risk to the petroleum platforms is just as great, and there are far more hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, yet we allowed those to be built. Those platforms also have finite life spans, and still we built them.

    The cost of doing nothing to move toward renewables is not zero, it’s huge already. And it is increasing every year in the form of increased insurance losses/costs, reduced agricultural and manufacturing productivity, human lives and so much more. To not allow the construction of what looks like large sailboats on the distance, something that Newport is famous for because some people long for the so-called Golden Age simply doesn’t make sense. We need to keep moving toward a diverse and extensive array of renewable forms of energy. Windfarms may turn out to be just the “bridge fuel” that natural gas is trying to be (at great impact to the health and viewsheds of the areas that fracking wells are installed in – including earthquakes), but we need all the options we can get to move us forward.

  12. I am very thankful to ecoRI for all the good work it does on behalf of environment justice. Frank’s latest article is compelling because he has a commitment to critical thinking, engaging writing, and courage to shine a light on hypocrisy. In addition to the forlorn pleas from the land barons to save their views, lawyers should also be called out for aiding and abetting the attempted crippling of the development of wind power. I have lived in Newport and other coastal towns in Rhode Island for most of my life and have always been impressed with the earnest work of Save The Bay. I was disappointed that Trudy Coxe, always a smart and dedicated advocate, would take this turn toward polarization (“my way or the highway”) instead of working toward a vision and strategy that emphasizes solving society’s challenges, in an increasingly complex and contentious world, in a way that values a dedication to the collective good of all Rhode Islanders.

  13. Was Trudy Cox a phony when she was head of Save the Bay? Or is she a phony hypocrite now.
    Trudy is selling her principles for a few pieces of silver.
    Is the salary as head of the Newport Preservation Society that lucrative that she would be willing to sacrifice her bonafides as an environmentalist?

  14. Hard to dispute the logic in this article. What I would really like to see is the Preservation Society use its considerable resources and legal talent to remove the street-level full sized billboards in Newport. These ugly structures degrade the street experience for the general public and reduce the value of the residential properties forced to look out at them every day. The billboard companies are making a lot of money at the neighborhood’s expense. There is no public gain to these eyesores only a loss. They represent real visual damage in Newport, not the view of some faraway structures which someday will become part of our collective coastal viewshed, much like sagging power lines have a quant and even artistic value in landscapes across the country.
    Jane W

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