BOSTON – The first public hearing on Cape Wind opened before Barnstable Town Council in Hyannis on Nov. 1, 2001 – 3,864 days ago.
The official decade-plus public debate over the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm closed Wednesday night after a three-hour hearing before utility regulators in Boston.
The arguments and the fight, however, are far from over.
“The truth is on our side,” Audra Parker, president and CEO of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said outside the hearing room in Boston’s South Station.
Parker, who joined the alliance in 2003, said the passions on both sides over the years have been incredible.
She also took several jabs at the project’s developer, Cape Wind Associates LLC.
“It’s incredible how successfully the developer has misled the public,” she said, citing the contention by Cape Wind’s supporters that the project will suppress electricity prices across New England as an example of that deceit.
Cape Wind has repeatedly told the public that the project would save customers money, but it will actually cost more, Parker said.
Cape Wind’s president, Jim Gordon, however, walked away from Wednesday night’s hearing buoyed and disputed Parker’s argument regarding the project’s impact on regional electricity prices.
“That is completely false,” he said.
Turns out, as with most issues surrounding the debate over Cape Wind, that it depends on how you look at it.
The effects of price suppression were accounted for in NStar’s filings, James Daly, the utility’s vice president of energy supply, said after the hearing. The project will significantly reduce the price of power in the marketplace, and its estimated above-market cost would be greater if not for that effect, he said.
Gordon dismissed Parker’s contention that he misled the public and argued that momentum was on his side.
“I’m very happy with these last three hearings,” he said. “There seems to be an overwhelming show of support for this project.”
Most opponents, Gordon said, don’t take into account the external costs of other sources of energy, such as carbon-based and nuclear fuels and their related pollution.
The hearings before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities over the past week were intended to take comment on a proposed contract between Cape Wind and NStar for about a quarter of the project’s power.
NStar has agreed to buy the power for about 19 cents per kilowatt hour in the first year of operation. Under the power pact, the cost of the power will rise by 3.5 percent for each year of the 15-year-contract.
A similar deal between Cape Wind and National Grid for half of the project’s power has already been approved by the DPU. National Grid delivers electricity on Nantucket. NStar delivers electricity on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.
Cape Wind’s opponents argue that the total additional cost of Cape Wind’s power over the life of the contract will be $4 billion. Ratepayers and residents will pay for it not only through their electric bill but also through higher costs for goods and services, they say.
Proponents of the project say that the additional cost comes to only about a dollar or two per month for an average residential electric customer.
As with a hearing in Hyannis last week, many of the people who came out Wednesday spoke in favor of the project.
“My family wants to be able to say that we didn’t miss the chance to create something good for our children and our grandchildren,” said Gerald Palano of Acton.
Palano said his family often visits Cape Cod and the Islands and would love to see the turbines on the sound.
Matt Lord of Lexington said his family owns a home in Edgartown, and he loves the beauty of Cape Cod.
“I personally believe that global warming is the most important public policy issue of our time,” Lord said in advocating for Cape Wind.
Many of the speakers represented regional, national and international environmental groups who argued that Cape Wind is an important first step in the fight against climate change.
Others claimed the economic benefits from the project would kick-start an important clean energy industry in the state.
Cape Wind’s opponents, most who came from the Cape, argued that the cost of the project is staggering, and its detrimental effect on the local economy would far outweigh any perceived economic benefits from the jobs it would create.
Edward Barrett, president of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, had the distinction of being the last person to speak at the last public hearing on the project.
“I wish I could have the last word on Cape Wind,” he said. “Even at this late date, I still can’t believe that the economic and environmental impacts of this project aren’t being fully considered as they should be.”
Like Parker, Barrett blamed politics for the project’s success so far.
The project has all of its required permits but still faces significant legal challenges.
The Alliance and other groups have five pending lawsuits and have successfully petitioned a federal judge to remand an approval by the Federal Aviation Administration back to the agency for further explanation.
The DPU will now hold evidentiary hearings before making a final decision on the NStar contract.