BOSTON – Republican Charles D. Baker and independent candidate Timothy P. Cahill attacked Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s programs to promote wind and solar energy as too costly, during an energy debate yesterday. Both said they favor increased use of nuclear power.
The strong endorsements of expanding reliance on nuclear power came as the candidates for governor met for a debate sponsored by the nonprofit group Mass Inc. and by Suffolk University. Also included was Green Rainbow candidate Jill Stein.
Mr. Patrick defended his support for the Cape Wind project and state subsidies for solar cell manufacturing as well as an ongoing $2 billion home and business energy conservation program that will save $6 billion over three years.
He said the problem with nuclear power is that it still has unresolved waste disposal issues.
Mr. Baker complained that the state has the fourth highest electricity rates in the country, and said he “can’t possibly come down on the side of going forward” with the Cape Wind project. He said it would deliver electricity at a cost of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour, while electric rates from conventional sources have never risen above 11 cents.
He said the offshore wind project relies on $600 million in government subsidies and $800 million in extra support from rate payers. Mr. Baker said the state should look to other less costly options and that more nuclear power, “represents a piece of the solution,” for Massachusetts and New England.
Mr. Cahill said Cape Wind would make the state less competitive and on-shore wind development would make more sense.
“Cape Wind is the perfect example of the wrong approach to renewable energy investment,” Mr. Baker said, arguing the state should invest instead in other “alternative” sources, which he said include nuclear and natural gas.
Nuclear power, he said, is a “cheaper and now safer alternative than it used to be.” But he added if the state is having trouble siting windmills, it would be “impossible” to site new nuclear plants.
Mr. Cahill complained that the state gave Evergreen Solar $68 million in subsidies and the company later began sending jobs to China; Mr. Patrick disputed the claim.
The governor said the subsidy for the company to build a new plant was far less, namely $22 million, and that the company created 1,000 jobs – far more than the 350 it promised as a basis for the grant. The governor said the company has said 150 jobs may go to China, but so far no jobs from that company have been shipped overseas.
Mr. Patrick said he likes everything about nuclear power except the unsolved problems of waste disposal. While the electric rates from Cape Wind would be higher than conventional power, the project would supply 3 percent of the state’s power, and would add $1.25 on average to rate payers’ electric bill. He noted the spike in oil prices two years ago added $20 per month to the average electric bill.
The governor said the Cape Wind investment is worthwhile because it would cut global warming emissions from fossil fuel generation, add up to 1,000 jobs and give the state an advantage in developing a local wind technology industry by having the first major offshore wind farm in the country.
Mr. Patrick said the higher cost of wind power should be compared with a fourfold increase in conventional power cost over the last 10 years. He also said that much of the natural gas that is used for much of the state’s power now comes from very volatile parts of the world.
Ms. Stein said she supports wind energy but the contracts for Cape Wind power are too expensive. She also called on the governor to return donations from utilities and companies associated with the project, first proposed nine years ago, and to seek competitive bids for the offshore project to get lower power costs for consumers.
She said it would be “incredibly foolhardy” for the state to boost nuclear power production and that society is paying a high price for global warming from fossil fuels. “Absolutely no, we don’t want to go nuclear,” she said.
Right now, she said, energy conservation and efficiency programs that will create jobs and cut energy costs are the best investment options for the state.
Asked by a panelist whether they would support state incentives to get people out of their cars and taking mass transit, the governor said that approach does not work all over the state. He said government incentives alone are not going to change people’s driving behaviors.
“You can say all day long to somebody in Central Massachusetts that they ought to get out of their car and get on public transportation, but if there are no trains what conversation are you having?” Mr. Patrick said.
The candidates also were asked whether they believe global warming is an established scientific fact and all four answered “yes.”
But they disagreed on whether it is caused by human activity. Mr. Cahill said “Not all of it.” Mr. Patrick said “Most of it.” Mr. Baker said “Partially, but not all of it,” and Ms. Stein said, “Virtually all of it.”
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