Cape Wind is urging a state board to overrule its staff and grant an extension of a permit needed to run a power line from the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound to Barnstable on Cape Cod.
With the Energy Facilities Siting Board set to hear final arguments on Wednesday, Cape Wind’s attorney submitted a brief to the agency saying the staff’s preliminary decision was off the mark. “Ultimately, the staff’s analysis largely boils down to this project has been in process for over 12 years and apparently in the staff’s eyes that is just too long,” said the brief, written by Charles Dougherty of Cape Wind Associates.
Cape Wind appeared to go down in flames early last year when it was unable to put together financing for the wind farm and watched as the utilities National Grid and Eversource exercised options in their high-priced power purchase contracts to pull out of the project. Cape Wind blamed its failure to put together the financing on lawsuits filed or orchestrated by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which is funded primarily by a group of wealthy landowners on Cape Cod who oppose the wind farm.
Now Jim Gordon, the energy executive who has invested more than $100 million in Cape Wind, sees an opening to revive his project. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are preparing to take up an omnibus energy bill that would promote offshore wind. Gordon said he is ready to compete on price with other offshore wind producers, but to do that he needs to win a couple of remaining court challenges to the project and gain extensions of some prior regulatory approvals, including the transmission line.
The politics surrounding Cape Wind are tricky. Gov. Charlie Baker, whose appointees control the Energy Facilities Siting Board, has long been an opponent of the wind farm and the way its now-lapsed power purchase agreements were awarded under former governor Deval Patrick. House lawmakers crafting the omnibus energy bill have gone to great lengths to suggest they want nothing to do with the lawsuits and controversy that has trailed Cape Wind. They prefer to deal with wind developers who have leased ocean tracts much farther out to sea.
Gordon said his project, even though it was designed at a time when wind turbines were smaller and less efficient, can compete on price. In testimony, Cape Wind said the cost of the project is now estimated at $63 million instead of $79.5 million, primarily because of a 50 percent reduction in the price of copper.
In its request for an extension of the transmission line approval, Cape Wind said none of the circumstances that led to the original approval has changed. The company said “it is quite feasible” it may be able to begin construction of the wind farm by the extension date of May 1, 2017, but conceded that if there are further delays it may need more extensions.
In the March 29 preliminary staff decision on Cape Wind’s request, James Buckley said the two key issues facing the board were whether any of the background conditions for prior approvals had changed and whether the length of the extension was reasonable.
Buckley concluded Cape Wind failed on both counts. He acknowledged that neither Cape Wind nor its opponents had identified any changes in background conditions, but said the wind farm should have gone further, reaching out to regulatory agencies for input on possible changed conditions. Buckley called Cape Wind’s assurances that background conditions had not changed “devoid of rigor or detailed analysis.”
Buckley also said it was highly unlikely Cape Wind could arrange financing and begin construction by May 2017. He raised the prospect that Cape Wind might build the transmission line even if the wind farm was never built.
“At this time, Cape Wind needs a lengthy, almost open-ended extension period,” Buckley wrote. “An open-ended extension obviously would be unreasonable. Any extension of the magnitude needed here, especially in light of the minimal investigation and review by Cape Wind for this proceeding, likewise would be unreasonable.”
Cape Wind, in its brief to the full board, labeled as “entirely nonsensical” the notion that it might construct the transmission line without first building the wind farm. The company also repeated its contention that there is no evidence that any of the background conditions had changed.
“Opponents have for more than 12 years done everything they can to prevent a renewable energy project that would be a major step forward in securing the energy future of the Commonwealth,” Cape Wind said in its brief. “It would be a travesty for the board to reward this ‘vexatious abuse of the democratic process’ by sending Cape Wind Association back to step one.”
The allegation that Cape Wind’s opponents have engaged in a “vexatious abuse of the democratic process” was made by US District Court Judge Richard Stearns in a May 2014 ruling on the wind farm.
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