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NStar seeks power from New England wind farms

NStar (NYSE: NST) is proposing to buy electricity from three New England wind power projects, including a controversial wind farm in Western Massachusetts.

The Boston-based utility has faced pressure from the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick to make more investments into renewable energy as the company seeks state approval of a merger with Hartford-based Northeast Utilities. NStar has expressed no interest in buying power from Cape Wind, the planned offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound that has seen strong support from the Patrick Administration.

NStar is now seeking state approval for power purchase agreements with projects in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, for a total of about 109 megawatts of power, according to filings with the state Department of Public Utilities last Friday. That’s under a fourth of the size of Cape Wind, which would produce 468 megawatts.

The price of the power from the wind farms – which includes both the actual electricity and associated “renewable energy credits” – is not disclosed in the filings.

The Massachusetts wind farm – the Hoosac Wind Energy Project – is located in the towns of Monroe and Florida and would produce 28.5 megawatts of power, according to the DPU filing. NStar says the project is a “cost-effective renewable resource” that allows the company to meet its state mandates to “sign long-term contracts to facilitate the financing of renewable generation.”

The project, developed by New England Wind LLC, has been expected to begin operation this year, after being delayed by litigation and local opposition since 2004.

The other wind farms that NStar is seeking to buy into are the Groton Wind project in Groton, N.H., and the Blue Sky East project in Eastbrook, Maine.

NStar has objected to buying offshore wind power from Cape Wind on the grounds that the price is too high. The project’s rate of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour – more than double the normal rate from fossil fuel power – has sparked major debate about the cost of renewable power and whether ratepayers should be asked to subsidize it. Utility National Grid has agreed to buy half of Cape Wind’s power at that rate, which was approved by the DPU last November.

The state Green Communities Act mandates utilities get an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, rising 1 percent a year to reach 25 percent by 2020. But NStar and Northeast Utilities have put the most effort into an energy project that won’t qualify for the quota – bringing Canadian hydropower to New England via a new transmission line. Northeast Utilities CEO Charles Shivery said previously he wants Massachusetts to amend its law so hydropower would qualify as renewable energy.