With the Cape Wind project on the ropes, the industry’s future in Massachusetts may rest on a federal wind power auction later this month for a sprawling area off Martha’s Vineyard.
Twelve companies have qualified to bid Jan. 29 as the federal government auctions four commercial leases for 742,000 acres of sea roughly 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. The power generated, if leased and used by the industry, could provide electricity for about 1.4 million homes, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.
The Massachusetts Wind Energy Area that is up for auction is farther offshore than Cape Wind’s estimated $2.5 billion project to install 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound, but that’s not enough to silence some critics.
“Offshore wind is a nonstarter. I can’t imagine circumstances under which it would be justifiable from an environmental or economic standpoint,” said David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute, who’s been a vocal opponent of Cape Wind. “There never was any economic justification for the Cape Wind project, and now with the falling fossil fuel prices, there’s even less justification for those projects.”
The auction comes as Cape Wind’s $150 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy is in jeopardy after National Grid and Nstar backed out of their contracts with the company, saying it had missed a Dec. 31 deadline for the necessary financing and had not provided collateral to extend the deadline.
From the beginning, the Cape Wind project was fraught with criticism from environmental advocates and economists alike, who said that it would disrupt fisheries in the area and create higher energy costs for Massachusetts residents.
“Anyone who bids on these tracts and puts up money to obtain them must be assuming that they’re going to be allowed to charge even higher rates than Cape Wind got National Grid and Nstar to charge,” Tuerck said. “Because however expensive it was, these projects will be more because they’re farther out to sea.”
But Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound and a Cape Wind opponent, said both the lease area in question and the steps taken by the government to look out for the public’s best interest already make this endeavor superior to Cape Wind.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way of identifying areas. Cape Wind’s fight was driven to maximize profit,” Parker said. “This process has involved science and stakeholder input.”
Although she said that it “does not address the high cost of offshore wind,” it is still better “in terms of site and the process it’s taken.”
That process has involved tools like Coastal Marine Spacial Planning, used to avoid environmental and financial costs in ocean management, she said.
Christopher Boelke, field office supervisor for the national Marine Fisheries Services, said the lease area was reduced by a third in part to protect the fisheries. He added that people may view this project as “less intrusive” than Cape Wind, given that it’s farther offshore in a lower-traffic area.
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