Who killed Cape Wind?
It’s a question developer Jim Gordon may be asking if he doesn’t get some help soon on Beacon Hill. Some probably thought the wind farm for Nantucket Sound was already dead, done in by an inability to land crucial financing more than a year ago. But Gordon doesn’t give up easily.
Gordon and Dennis Duffy, vice president at Gordon’s Energy Management Inc. in Boston, recently pinned their hopes on a state energy bill that would prompt utilities to enter into contracts with offshore wind developers. But they were blindsided when a version was drafted specifically to preclude them from competing. The project that has refused to die may have met its final fate.
The language in the first House version, released last month, would prevent any firm with offshore rights that date back before 2012 from bidding on these energy contracts. That language prohibits one project: Cape Wind. Then, last week, the House leadership doubled down, adding another section that would prevent any offshore wind project within 10 miles of an inhabited area from bidding. Again, a certain Nantucket Sound wind farm was the only proposal to be shut out.
Duffy came out swinging with a statement that accuses Cape Wind’s old enemy, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of blocking what could be Cape Wind’s last best hope for survival. The reason? The Alliance hired Tom Finneran, the former House Speaker-turned-lobbyist, this spring, just weeks before the energy bill was released by House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s leadership team. DeLeo is a former Boston Latin classmate of Finneran’s, and was part of Finneran’s leadership team when he ran the House.
Then there’s the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the high-powered group of big-company CEOs that worked behind the scenes to kill Cape Wind over the years, pointing to the project’s costs and the burden it would impose on energy bills. The MACP persisted even after Cape Wind lost its contracts with National Grid and Eversource last year, going on record against the project as recently as April.
Some insiders point to the Cape’s legislative delegation, which has been largely opposed to the project. And then there are the pro-wind forces that aren’t stepping up to help Cape Wind either because they’ve moved on to other priorities or are worried that the controversial project could scuttle the energy bill by drawing a target for Cape Wind’s enemies.
A spokesman for Offshore Wind Massachusetts, the trade group that represents three wind farm developers looking to build further offshore, says it wasn’t behind the exclusion language and it welcomes the competition from Cape Wind. But it’s also not rushing to Cape Wind’s aid.
Audra Parker, the Alliance’s CEO, is normally outspoken about every twist and turn in the Cape Wind saga. She’ll talk about where things stand with her group’s legal fight against Cape Wind in Washington. But she says she won’t comment about the legislation yet, not until the bill is done.
Finneran, meanwhile, makes no secret about the fact he talked to legislative leaders about Cape Wind. They understand, he says, that the deep-water options proposed by the other developers are superior to the “horse-and-buggy” technology Cape Wind is looking to deploy in Nantucket Sound.
Finneran also concedes that Cape Wind “would mar a really very special, precious resource” – Nantucket Sound.
Cape Wind developers should instead consider the deeper waters, south of Martha’s Vineyard, Finneran says. “The deep-water sites have been vetted thoroughly by the federal government and they have taken into account virtually every factor that man could imagine,” Finneran says.
DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell says the Legislature gave Cape Wind “every opportunity to succeed,” and cited a bill in 2008 that paved the way for Cape Wind to obtain those utility contracts that it lost last year. Gitell echoed Finneran’s concerns, saying the deeper waters are “where the wind is ideal, and offshore wind projects will have the best chance of success and will be the best deal for ratepayers.”
Opponents say Cape Wind would be too expensive, based on the prices contained in the now-discarded utility contracts. But Gordon and Duffy say they those are outdated prices, and that Cape Wind deserves a chance to compete on price with the newer arrivals, such as Dong Energy and Deepwater Wind.
The developers behind Cape Wind were banking on this wind bill to land the financing that has escaped them this far in the process. They still have some hope of persuading Senate leaders to strike the anti-Cape Wind language from the energy bill.
But timing is not in their favor: The closer we get to the end of the Legislature’s formal sessions on July 31, the more likely it will be that leaders on Beacon Hill will pick options that allow them to steer clear of controversy, to get certain bills passed quickly. Cape Wind would bring more than its fair share to the table.
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