Cape Wind: Lessons from Environment and Energy Conflict

3 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2011

See all articles by Mary Jo Larson

Mary Jo Larson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2011


This interactive session format examines environment conflict associated with increasing public-private investments in renewable energy. The case issue is Cape Wind, a complex 10-year confrontation over private sector plans to build the largest offshore wind farm in the United States. The proposed site for the wind turbines is Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. The proposed site covers 24 square miles and is situated 4-11 miles from the shoreline of Cape Cod, a popular summer resort. Environment and energy conflicts involve multiple parties, special interests, overlapping political jurisdictions, scientific uncertainty and valued traditions and heritage. Investors must meet national environmental impact standards and obtain local, regional, state and federal approvals. Federal offices monitoring this case include the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior. At the same time, investors confront various sources of opposition to wind turbines and other renewable energy projects. As opponents form alliances, positions become polarized and scientific data is devalued. In this Cape Wind case, opponents of the project raised millions of dollars to block the construction of Cape Wind prior to the completion of technical or environmental impact studies. This case is significant in the United States, and many countries worldwide, as efforts to fight climate change and avoid its catastrophic effects include increasing federal and state government support for private sector investments in the clean, renewable energy associated with wind turbines. Most Americans know about climate change, and the nation has access to the resources and technologies required to achieve the current national goal of “generating 25% of our energy from renewable sources by 2025.” (See “Organizing for America.”). To achieve this goal, the Obama administration proposes to invest in clean, renewable energy, including solar, wind, biofuels and geothermal power. Why the strong local resistance to renewable energy projects, such as Cape Wind? In this presentation, conflict analysis tools and concepts demonstrate why and how environment and energy conflicts escalate among parties of relatively equal power.

- Conflict analysis matrix illustrates major parties, issues, interests, sources of power and demonstrated willingness to engage. - Coordinated management of meanings (CMM) recognizes various values, perspectives and interpretations. - Framework analysis defines the dimensions of the conflict and sets the stage for conflict resolution strategies.

Participants address questions about the timing, agenda, speakers and protocols of public town meetings to address renewable energy proposals. The analysis of public engagement seeks evidence of strategic efforts to elicit common concerns or proactively engage the wider public through diverse venues and sources of media. Throughout the discussion, participants observe the significance of public dialogue, the communication of scientific data, and the long-term impact of local, state and federal policies and politics.

Suggested Citation

Larson, Mary Jo, Cape Wind: Lessons from Environment and Energy Conflict (2011). IACM 24th Annual Conference Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Mary Jo Larson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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