To Gov. Deval Patrick, getting Cape Wind built is about improving the environment and the local job situation. But it’s about more than that. It’s about symbolism.
In an editorial board meeting this morning at The Patriot Ledger, Patrick said that the construction of the 130-turbine wind farm is important symbolically because it could make Massachusetts home to the first major offshore wind project in this country.
But is the symbolism worth the price? Patrick thinks so. To help facilitate his administration’s approval of its pending merger with Northeast Utilities, NStar recently agreed to buy 27.5 percent of Cape Wind’s power. The extra cost of NStar’s purchase agreement with Cape Wind for a typical residential ratepayer would start out at around $1 a month. (NStar agreed to pay more than twice the going rate for electricity, but the Cape Wind power would still be just a fraction of NStar’s total electricity purchases). That rate would rise 3.5 percent each year because of a clause in the contract, and could increase even further if Congress doesn’t renew tax breaks for the wind industry.
Getting National Grid, which agreed to buy half of Cape Wind’s power in 2010, and NStar on board will be critical to as-yet-unsuccessful efforts to land financing for the $2 billion-plus project.
National Grid embraced Cape Wind. But NStar was initially reluctant to purchase offshore wind power, namely because it’s much more expensive than most land-based renewable options.
However, NStar needed to go through the Patrick administration to get this merger approved. And by mid-February, NStar had come around to Patrick’s line of thinking.
Still, Patrick didn’t offer much in the way of compliments for NStar today. Instead, Patrick said the utility had a lot of explaining to do for its high rates. He then proceeded to point out an example: He said NStar’s rates are 40 percent higher than “the nearest utility.” (He was talking about National Grid, but didn’t mention the company by name).
I asked for specifics later in the day, and a Patrick spokesman said the governor was referring to the difference in distribution rates between NStar’s distribution rate in its Boston area territory and National Grid’s distribution rate in its former Mass. Electric territory. The difference between the total monthly bills aren’t as wide: National Grid customers are paying an average of nearly $95, compared with $110 for NStar’s Boston area customers.
Those bills will go up by a modest monthly amount if and when Cape Wind is finally built. But Patrick told us that’s a minuscule price to pay to help bring some long-term electricity price stability to a region that needs to import natural gas and coal from other parts of the country to keep most of the power plants here running.
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