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Foes hope to can controversial offshore wind project after high cost exposed

Opponents of what would be the first-in-the-nation offshore wind facility are hoping that a newly struck deal in Massachusetts will effectively pull the plug on the yet-to-be-built project.

Increasing their buying power, the largest electrical utilities in Massachusetts have pooled together to strike a deal to buy wind power from out of state at a fraction of what it would cost to buy from the offshore project known as Cape Wind. Opponents say the deal proves that Cape Wind is too pricey.

“It clearly shows that Cape Wind is a needless waste of ratepayer and taxpayer dollars,” said Audra Parker, the president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of the deal announced in September.

The negotiated deal between the utilities and wind developers in Maine and New Hampshire provides 565 megawatts of power at an average cost of less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Massachusetts utilities – like National Grid and NSTAR – had agreed to pay Cape Wind 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

Parker says the project will only increase in cost, and could end up being three times more expensive for Massachusetts than the out-of-state deal.

Cape Wind has jumped through regulatory hurdles for 12 years to win approval, and project representatives argue the higher cost is worthwhile. They say since the energy is created close to home in an area of high power demand, it makes sense for utilities to diversify and, with investment, the cost of this “younger technology” will drop.

George Bachrach, the President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, a Cape Wind ally, says the project is a valuable investment in the future.

“I think a light bulb actually cost more than a candle when it came out. The Model T cost a little more than a horse and buggy when it came out, and that’s what you’re seeing here, a new industry starting, but it’s an important industry not just for the environment but also the economy,” said Bachrach.

He argues the cost to the utilities, which is higher, is not the cost to the consumer.

“So, when the utility purchases it at 18 cents per kilowatt hour it gets into a mix of other energy resources in that utility’s portfolio, and the average consumer homeowner pays maybe a buck and a half a month – a very nominal amount for a very important new source of energy,” argues Bachrach.

Meanwhile, state leaders and environmental officials continue to stand by the project. Despite ongoing legal challenges from opponents, Cape Wind is moving forward with hopes the building phase will begin in 2014.