Massachusetts is teaching the nation a valuable lesson on government’s role in creating new green industries – it’s just not the lesson the state’s leadership planned on.
As Evergreen Solar packs its equipment, abandons its state-funded 450,000-square-foot plant and lays off its 800-plus work force, the state is scrambling to try and claw back at least a piece of the $58 million it spent to lure the solar panel manufacturer to a former Air Force base west of Boston.
“Lure” may not be a strong enough word here: Gov. Deval Patrick and then-Energy Secretary Ian Bowles did everything possible for the solar start-up to locate at the former Fort Devens – throwing millions in grants and tax incentives and infrastructure and equipment funding at what any in-depth analysis would have shown was at best a long-shot venture.
Why did the Patrick administration so avidly pursue Evergreen? Because in Massachusetts, when it comes to spending scarce state tax dollars, it is ideology – not due diligence, the prospect for jobs or even common sense – that is the driving force. Now Patrick is embarked on a new green energy mission that promises to create an even greater financial crater for Massachusetts than the one that’s been left by Evergreen.
The governor has pledged to support Cape Wind, the most expensive wind facility ever constructed in the U.S. – at all costs. And for the state’s consumers and small businesses – already paying some of the highest electric rates in the country – that cost happens to be an additional $4 billion tacked on to their electric bills over the next 15 years.
For years Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon told Massachusetts ratepayers that Cape Wind would save them money. Wind is free, right?
But when Cape Wind and Massachusetts’ political leaders had to come clean about the true cost of the project, the public was in for quite a surprise. Under pressure from the Patrick administration, the state’s largest utility, National Grid, inked a no-bid deal with Cape Wind saddling electric ratepayers with billions of dollars in added costs.
Meanwhile, the state’s second largest utility company, NStar [NST], let renewable energy providers compete for their customers the way all businesses do: by offering the lowest price. The result was green energy bids totaling 1,180 megawatts from 35 projects in Massachusetts alone – all at a fraction of the cost of Cape Wind. And an even more recent bidding process opened up to all of New England yielded far more – 113 bids which would deliver 28 times more energy than NStar needs to meet state goals.
According to Cape Wind, its project would produce power at 19 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) in year one, rising 3.5 percent per year to reach an astounding 30 cents per kwh in the last year of the 15-year contract. By contrast, Maine’s Kibby Mountain is selling its wind energy for a flat 10.5 cents per kwh in a 10-year contract.
If affordable green energy options are available now from neighboring sources, why is Patrick so intent on spending billions in taxpayer and ratepayer dollars turning Nantucket Sound into an industrial park? The real rationale for Evergreen Solar, and the real rationale for Cape Wind, has nothing to do with jobs or green energy. It has to do with ideology. And that’s a poor way to make decisions about taxpayer dollars.
Audra Parker is president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
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