Category Archives: Massachusetts

MA – Cape Wind: dead or alive?

By Christine Legere , Cape Cod Times – January 9, 2015

Following the announcement Tuesday by two electric utilities that contracts to buy power from the wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound had been terminated, opponents were declaring Cape Wind finally defunct, after 13 years of contentious public debate, permitting and court battles.

Supporters, however, said that the estimated $2.6 billion proposal to build 130 turbines in the sound has survived challenges in the past and will this time as well.

“Cape Wind may be down, but it’s not out,” Kit Kennedy, director of the energy and transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in an email. “It’s not easy being first, but this project has managed to move past a number of roadblocks and we hope the same will happen this time around.”

Citing Cape Wind’s missed Dec. 31 deadline to secure financing and meet other important milestones, National Grid and NStar terminated power purchase agreements signed in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

The pull-out by the utilities is “very bad news for Cape Wind, but very good news for Massachusetts ratepayers who will save billions of dollars in electric bills,” according to Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Parker predicted the loss of customers for Cape Wind “may finally mean the end of the long fight to save Nantucket Sound from industrialization.” The contracts have long been considered crucial to securing financing for the project.

Cape Wind’s President Jim Gordon has been keeping mum about what’s next for the project. Company spokesman Mark Rodgers repeated, in an email, the claim that the power purchase agreements with the utilities remain in effect, based on a clause that allows for an extension if there are unanticipated delays but declined further comment.

Cape Wind could have paid the utilities to extend the contracts, $1.17 million for a six-month extension in the case of National Grid, according to the agreement with the utility. According to various figures Gordon has provided in the past, the company has already spent $50 million to $70 million on developing the project.

“I’ve followed this for over a decade and I would say it’s not over until Jim Gordon says he’s pulling the plug,” said Jack Clarke, spokesman for Massachusetts Audubon Society, a strong Cape Wind backer.

Clarke said he would “never say never” about Cape Wind but the utilities move to terminate the contracts was a “setback.”

“I’ll be on a conference call with Cape Wind tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll see what they say.”

William Delahunt, a former U.S. congressman who represented the South Shore, the Cape and the Islands when Cape Wind was first proposed in 2001, said he had predicted it would fail. “The legal basis for it was a statute enacted in the late 1800s that clearly didn’t envision this kind of project,” he said. “I predicted what has occurred: That there would be interminable litigation. Here we are 15 years later and they’re still talking about delays. It’s absurd.”

Delahunt said he and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy were both advocates of green energy, but the attitude of Cape Wind officials was arrogant and the project’s scope was beyond anything ever proposed.

“There was never any kind of community outreach to see what type of project would be acceptable,” Delahunt said. “From my perspective, it was, ‘We’re going to do it and we don’t care what the communities think.’”

Even some opponents of the project aren’t ready to believe it’s really over yet.

Barnstable’s assistant town attorney, Charles McLaughlin, said he’s not willing to rest easy until pending legal cases are withdrawn.

“The goal of this all is to protect Nantucket Sound,” he said. “Our fight has been historic and visual.”

The town’s concerns include the possibility that a collision between a boat and the large electric service platform the project requires could spill thousands of gallons of oil into the sound, McLaughlin said.

And Barnstable officials are trying to block an expansion of NStar’s power transfer station in Independence Park, which is required to connect the project to the grid, since the site would be used for the storage of highly toxic chemicals associated with the equipment, he said.

“It’s over a sole source aquifer,” McLaughlin said. “It could affect our wellheads.”

A former official of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) said she hoped wind turbines won’t mar the Sound.

“When I became tribal historic preservation officer in 2004, I received the 12-inch environmental impact study and it made me heartsick,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman emeritus of the Aquinnah Tribal Council. “It’s the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The Aquinnah were concerned over the effects of Cape Wind on prehistoric artifacts in the Sound, their cultural beliefs related to the sun and the horizon, and the area’s marine life.

“We are in favor of green energy,” Andrews-Maltais said. “Hopefully Cape Wind will find another project, but it should be an appropriate project in an appropriate place.”

Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the pro-Cape Wind organization Conservation Law Foundation, hopes this latest development is nothing more than a “bump” for the wind project.

“We’re very disappointed with this turn of events,” Mahoney said. “It’s a good project that’s held up by being litigated to death.”

Cape Wind has been a pioneer in the wind industry, whatever happens, according to Kennedy.

“Cape Wind has forged a path for others to follow, and as a result, a broader U.S. offshore wind industry is moving full speed ahead with dozens of other projects already in the advanced stages of development,” she wrote in an email. “No matter the outcome here, we can say with confidence that offshore wind will be part of America’s future.”

The timing of the project’s demise is interesting, since it has occurred at the close of an administration that was aggressively backing renewable energy, Delahunt said.

“One heard a lot of grousing about tremendous political pressure to sign the power purchase agreements,” he said. “Here we are. There’s a change of administration and the two major utilities have opted out.”

 

MA-Tom May, Northeast Utilities happy to get out of Cape Wind

By Shirley Leung, Globe Staff | The Boston Globe | January 09, 2015

On New Year’s Eve, most people watched the ball drop in Times Square or sang “Auld Lang Syne.” Tom May was waiting for the exact moment he could dump the Cape Wind contract.

He never liked Cape Wind, and the Patrick administration twisted his arm to buy power from the controversial offshore wind project as a condition of NStar’s $17.5 billion merger with Northeast Utilities.

May was running the Boston power company at the time, and he’s now the chairman and chief executive of Northeast Utilities. On Dec. 31, Cape Wind missed a critical deadline to secure financing, start construction, or put up financial collateral to extend the contract with Northeast. That gave Northeast and another utility, National Grid, a reason to pull out.

In 2012, the NStar-Cape Wind deal was considered a stroke of political genius, driven by Ian Bowles, Governor Deval Patrick’s first energy and environmental affairs secretary.

Cape Wind wanted to be the nation’s first offshore wind farm — and the state was eager to help because it would be the ultimate symbol of the Patrick administration’s clean-energy revolution. To get financing, Cape Wind needed customers, in the form of utilities locked into long-term contracts to buy electricity.

National Grid, excited by renewable energy, signed on first, agreeing to buy half of the power produced by Cape Wind. The utility, based in the United Kingdom, was comfortable with offshore wind farms, which were already up and running on the other side of the pond.

May had nothing against the wind or renewable energy. It’s just that electricity from Cape Wind, which would set up 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound, would be expensive. And that matters in a state where electricity costs are already twice the national average.

“Clean energy,” May told the Globe in 2010, “isn’t cheaper energy.”

I’m sure May’s concern for the ratepayers was sincere. But the CEO, who has a nice place on the Cape, was probably getting an earful from other members of the multimillionaire club worried about what the project would do to their vacation compounds.

Power from the $2.5 billion Cape Wind project would indeed be pricey. But since state regulators had to approve the utility merger, Bowles and Patrick were able to put the squeeze on NStar.

May ended up agreeing to a 15-year Cape Wind contract with a base rate of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour, the same price as National Grid. No doubt it was done through clenched teeth, knowing that power from land-based wind farms costs about 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Over the life of the contract, NStar would pay an average price of 24 cents per kilowatt hour.

Who knew the salty seabreeze off Nantucket was as rich as the island itself?

There are real reasons why offshore wind comes at a premium. It costs more to build in the middle of the water, but companies want to be there because of the steady winds.

Jim Gordon, who made his money building power plants, proposed Cape Wind in 2001. He picked Nantucket Sound for its shallow waters in a location protected from harsh ocean waves, making construction and operation of the turbines easier.

After all these years, Gordon seemed close with permits and a good chunk of funding in hand. The state even started to build a $113 million marine terminal in New Bedford to support Cape Wind construction.

Cape Wind had already extended its contract with the utilities once and could have exercised another six-month extension if the wind company put down a $1.8 million security deposit.

But on Dec. 31, Gordon, in a letter to utilities and regulators, cited “unprecedented” litigation by the project’s chief opponent, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which he believed triggered a so-called force majeure clause that would automatically extend contract deadlines.

Neither utility agreed that the lawsuits constituted a force majeure, which typically applies to unforeseeable natural disasters or labor strikes.

“We saw that the future was uncertain if the project itself was not willing to buy six months of time with $1.8 million,” said James Daly, vice president of energy supply at Northeast Utilities.

So now what?

No doubt Cape Wind is looking at its legal options. Did the utilities breach their contracts? I’m told the company has already spent $100 million fending off lawsuits from the Alliance and others. What’s a few more legal bills?

Even though Gordon may have thought Cape Wind was on solid legal ground, it was stupid not to pay the collateral. The utilities called his bluff, and the project is now all but dead.

Maybe this is why they pay Tom May the really big bucks. He got his merger — which grew his stock holdings and pension benefits to more than $80 million — and he did it without Cape Wind.

No matter what else happens in 2015, it’s already a happy new year for May.

MA – Kingston Board of Health tables decision on adopting flicker regulation

By Kathryn Gallerani | Wicked Local Kingston | kingston.wickedlocal.com

November 28, 2014 • Kingston, Massachusetts

KINGSTON – The Board of Health isn’t ready for the glare of lights that would shine on the board for adopting a shadow flicker regulation.

Board members voted 3-2 Tuesday night to table a decision on whether to adopt a regulation until they have additional information.

Board members cited the lack of a final, revised flicker study as one reason to delay a decision. A flicker study, the results of which were released in June 2013, was deemed to be incomplete, according to Town Counsel Jay Talerman.

EAPC Wind Energy conducted the first flicker study on behalf of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Residents who claim to be affected by flicker say the results of the first study adequately prove their point. Talerman said plans for a more complete study are moving very slowly.

Board Chairman Joe Casna said it has not been proven to his satisfaction that flicker causes adverse affects or is a nuisance.

“I am not hearing health impacts,” he said. “I’m not satisfied we have enough information to proceed.”

Jack Breen and Bill Kavol voted with Casna, while Toni Cushman and Bill Watson voted in the minority.

Talerman said he wrote the proposed regulation with the goal of making it solid enough to survive scrutiny or a challenge by a turbine owner.

He cited the limited number of flicker regulations in the state and elsewhere as an important reason.

“There’s not much out there in the industry in terms of shadow flicker regulations,” he said.

The regulation would have applied to both current and future Kingston turbine owners through a special permit-type process that would have kicked in within 60 days.

Cushman said that if the question is how much flicker the wind turbines are really generating, and Talerman said that is the question, then how else is the board going to determine that? She said none of the turbine owners have shown a willingness to help mitigate flicker.

“We have to have some type of a solution,” she said. “No one has come forward with a mitigation plan.”

Watson said he thought the regulation was solid.

“Overall I think it was well put together,” he said.

The existing turbine owners would have had to prove to the Board of Health that the amount of flicker from their turbines did not exceed whatever acceptable limits the board decided on.

A legal appeal of the regulation by multiple wind turbine owner Mary O’Donnell was practically assured when the board heard directly from her.

O’Donnell said any approval of a flicker regulation would end up in court, because there’s no proof flicker causes adverse health impacts.

“Where is your documentation? I certainly think it should be on the record,” she said. “We have documentation saying just the opposite.”

Talerman said the Board of Health has jurisdiction when there may be an adverse health risk or a nuisance that affects the health of residents.

Leland Road resident Doreen Reilly supported the flicker regulation. She said flicker has been impacting her family’s health for long enough.

She said no limit other than zero flicker hours should be adopted. She said it’s wrong that flicker is allowed to drive her out of her own home.

“It makes you want to leave your house,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to leave your house.”

Residents spoke out for and against the flicker regulation during the public hearing Monday.

Landing Road resident and turbine supporter Pine duBois argued against the regulation by listing a litany of complaints about things she calls nuisances.

“I’m just trying to suggest that you’re going out on a very frail limb,” she said.