BOSTON – The Bay State’s gubernatorial candidates duked it out yesterday over Cape Wind and its effect on climate change, the state’s economy and energy policy.
But Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, Republican Charles Baker, independent Timothy Cahill and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein sparred over more than just the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm during a standing-room-only afternoon debate at Suffolk University’s C. Walsh Theatre.
The candidates answered questions on natural gas production, re-licensing the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth and energy efficiency. The audience also learned their philosophies on government intervention in economic markets.
Baker and Cahill pushed Patrick on the cost of Cape Wind, arguing that the project has been given preferential treatment and that it will hurt businesses and consumers.
Patrick is the only one of the four who supports Cape Wind. Stein’s concerns are based on transparency and process issues; she expressed no concern with the environmental impact or project location.
“I think the taxpayers of Massachusetts deserve a transparent contract,” Stein said after the hourlong debate. “I like wind turbines. I think they’re beautiful, for the most part.”
Three energy principles
During the debate Baker said he believes in three principles of energy policy: do no harm financially; diversify; and make sure contracts are procured competitively and transparently.
“Cape Wind does a lot of harm financially,” he said, adding that the state should be looking to companies like Hydro-Québec for cheaper forms of renewable energy.
“This is a fixed-price contract with a permanent inflation rate,” Baker said of the agreement to sell half of Cape Wind’s power to National Grid for 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
When renewable-energy certificates that are part of the deal are accounted for, the price of Cape Wind’s power is comparable to other energy sources, Patrick said.
The controversial project is not the solution, but it is one of many areas where the state is moving forward to combat global warming while simultaneously creating clean-energy jobs, he said.
During his administration, for example, the state has increased its solar power by 20 times, quadrupled the number of solar installers and manufacturers and tripled the number of people working in the solar industry, he said. Climate change is real but there are many other reasons to encourage renewable energy, he said.
“Should Massachusetts consumers and businesses have to carry that water all the way?” countered Cahill during the friendly but spirited forum.
Although energy produced by Cape Wind is expected to cost only $1.50 more on the average monthly residential electric bill, that is on top of already high bills, he said. The state is already taking measures to break its dependence on foreign oil through the use of cleaner-burning natural gas, he said.
Windmills aren’t new
“You’re talking about moving the state forward,” Cahill said to Patrick. “We’re talking about windmills; windmills are not a new technology.”
Patrick countered that the price of natural gas and other fossil fuels will remain unpredictable in the future. “We’re getting a big chunk of our natural gas and oil from very volatile parts of the world, and we have to deal with that,” he said.
Cahill also pushed Patrick to expedite the re-licensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.
“I would be all in favor of renewing the license for Pilgrim and speeding that process up,” Cahill said. He said Patrick’s administration had slowed that process down.
“That’s not the case,” Patrick countered. “What we have done is express our concerns about elevated levels of tritium in test wells. That’s a public health issue. That’s the job.”
Patrick said he likes everything about nuclear except the issue over what can be done with nuclear waste material, and that has yet to be solved.
“Absolutely, no, we don’t want to go nuclear,” said Stein, citing accidents in the former Soviet Union that have made certain areas uninhabitable.
There is no conflict between what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the environment, Stein said, challenging comments made by Cahill. By improving the environment and preventing disease it is possible to lower health care costs and benefit the economy, she said.
The candidates all quickly answered yes when asked whether they believe climate change is occurring. But their answers varied on whether it has been caused by humans.
Cahill and Baker said climate change is only partially the fault of humans. Patrick said most climate change was caused by humans and Stein said virtually all climate change has been human induced.
Sign of the times
For audience members the debate signaled that energy and Cape Wind are major issues for voters this November.
“This is really extraordinary and a sign of the times that the first major gubernatorial debate was really all about renewable energy and Cape Wind,” Sue Reid, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said after the debate. The Foundation supports Cape Wind.
Opponents of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm said they were equally happy that three of the four candidates for governor were either outright opposed to the project or had concerns about the contract the company is pursuing with National Grid.
“I’m leaning toward Baker,” said Lisa Kent, a volunteer with the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “I have more faith that he would put his fist down.”
Cape Wind officials who attended yesterday’s debate said they were not surprised by the candidates’ positions but found it helpful to clarify those positions in a public forum.
“It seems like a lot of it is where you think the long-term markets for gas and oil are going to go,” said Cape Wind vice president Dennis Duffy.
And, while many opponents argue that Cape Wind would be heavily subsidized, large nuclear power projects are unlikely to be built without heavy subsidies from the federal government, Duffy said.
The debate was sponsored by MassINC and CommonWealth magazine.
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