The primary group fighting the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm is crying foul over public records requests to learn more about negotiations to sell power from the project.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has filed a pair of appeals with Massachusetts and federal officials claiming that the group has not received complete responses to records requests covering discussions among Cape Wind, National Grid and government agencies.
“This is a dance where we’re trying to get information and they’re trying not to release it,” said Audra Parker, the alliance president and chief executive officer. When documents have been provided, they have been heavily redacted, including the removal of Gov. Deval Patrick’s name in some cases, she said.
Confidential information has become a pivotal part of the review by the state’s Department of Public Utilities of a power purchase agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid, now the subject of public hearings in Boston.
On Tuesday, the chairwoman of the DPU scolded the alliance’s attorney for sending out mass e-mails that contained pricing information covered by a nondisclosure agreement.
Although utility regulators deferred a decision on whether to punish the alliance for the transgression, chairwoman Ann Berwick promised “serious sanctions” if future breaches occurred.
The DPU is expected to wrap up the hearings next week and could have a decision as soon as November on whether the power pact between the developer and utility is cost effective.
Under the deal Cape Wind would sell half the power from the 130-turbine project to National Grid for 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the first year of the 15-year contract with a 3.5 percent annual escalation rate.
When spread over all of the utility’s customers the additional cost for the average residential customer in the first year would be about $1.50 per month, according to National Grid’s calculations.
The alliance has argued that the information covered by nondisclosure agreements should be available to the public and that Cape Wind’s deal with National Grid was done behind closed doors with the assistance of state officials.
Documents in the possession of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the U.S. Bureau of Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – formerly the U.S. Minerals Management Service – regarding discussions about the deal should be publicly available, according to the alliance.
In a Sept. 1 letter to the state’s supervisor of records Parker outlined the response of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to an April 29 records request.
The agency first responded May 14 with a quote of $2,794.90 for the cost of the documents, Parker wrote, which the alliance paid on May 26. On June 16, the agency provided a partial response to the request that the alliance estimated totaled $50 worth of material, she wrote.
Although the state agency informed the alliance that it continued to work on the group’s request no other documents have been received, Parker wrote.
The state is in the process of fulfilling the alliance’s request, said Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The agency has already produced “a voluminous amount of material” and will continue to do so, she said.
“The alliance’s request requires a search of 3½ years’ worth of correspondence and other records involving four dozen individuals and organizations named in the request, then redacting portions of those documents that fall outside the scope of the request,” she said.
“In addition, the documents we produce in response to their request must be reviewed carefully in light of the multiple lawsuits the alliance has pending against the commonwealth, to make sure we are not inadvertently providing any information that is privileged or exempt under the deliberative process rule of the public records law.”
The document requests are not the only area where information has been withheld, according to Parker.
At the DPU hearings Wednesday National Grid witnesses ducked questions about the timing of the utility’s agreement with Cape Wind when compared with its evaluation of bids from other energy generators, Parker said.
“Why should a public utility at a public hearing consider the timing of transactions to be something that the public is not allowed to see or hear?” she said.
Direct negotiations between power providers and electricity buyers in Massachusetts are the norm, said Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.
“That’s what Cape Wind and National Grid did,” he said.
This type of bilateral negotiation is specifically allowed under the state’s Green Communities Act, Rodgers said.
“National Grid had the benefit when they were negotiating with Cape Wind of having already received and evaluated bids it had received in a request for proposals,” he said.
Rodgers noted that other land—based wind projects, which the alliance has suggested it prefers, have also used direct negotiations with utilities to secure contracts.
“We sought and obtained DPU approval before we entered into the negotiations,” said National Grid spokeswoman Jackie Barry. “Now our proposal is before the DPU and a host of other interested parties, including the alliance, for review and evaluation in a very public setting.
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