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.”