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Cape Wind calls it quits; Gordon says he is surrendering offshore wind lease

The developer behind Cape Wind, who sought to pioneer offshore wind power in the United States but never managed to shake legal challenges from locals led by billionaire William Koch, has thrown in the towel and decided to move on.

Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind Associates, notified the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday that he is abandoning development of the wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound and surrendering the commercial lease the project obtained in 2010. Gordon has personally invested more than $100 million in the project.

In a brief telephone interview on Friday, an emotional Gordon said the decision was “probably the deepest, most personal decision that I’ve made in my career.”

The project overcame countless legal challenges, but the “delay, delay, delay” strategy of the opponents in the end proved successful. A key turning point came in early 2015, when Cape Wind was unable to complete construction financing by a fixed deadline and watched as Eversource and National Grid canceled their power purchase contracts with the project.

Most developers probably would have thrown in the towel then, but Gordon kept at it. He defended his permits against legal challenges and briefly tried to make a comeback as the Legislature in 2016 began considering legislation committing the state to a massive procurement of offshore wind power.

But then a panel dominated by Baker administration appointees refused to grant Cape Wind a permit extension for construction of a transmission line between the wind farm and shore. The final blow came when the offshore wind legislation approved by Beacon Hill included a provision barring Cape Wind from even bidding on contracts to supply electricity. Only those projects with leases much farther offshore have been allowed to compete.

Koch, who didn’t want Cape Wind built because it would spoil the view from his Osterville compound, made no secret of his plan for killing Cape Wind. In a 2013 interview with CommonWealth, he said he was pursuing two Cape Wind strategies through a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

“One is to just delay, delay, delay, which we’re doing and hopefully we can win some of these bureaucrats over,” Koch said. “The other way is to elect politicians who understand how foolhardy alternative energy is.”

Cape Wind benefited from support it received from former governor Deval Patrick, who most notably strong-armed a reluctant Eversource Energy into signing a power purchase agreement with the wind project in order to win regulatory approval for a corporate merger. Cape Wind has fared less well with Gov. Charlie Baker, who has never been a supporter of Cape Wind even though his administration is now pushing forward with a major offshore wind procurement.

In a statement, Cape Wind appeared to blame its decision to surrending its lease on the constant legal challenges to the project. “Despite strong support from the public and environmental advocates, an opposition group funded largely by wealthy waterfront homeowners and led by a fossil fuel billionaire filed more than 25 appeals in a continuous effort to obstruct the construction of the project,” the statement said.

In the statement, Gordon was quoted as saying his company has developed a billion dollars of renewable solar and biomass energy projects during Cape Wind’s development period. He also said he was proud of the company’s trailblazing efforts in offshore wind development.

“Our successful resolution of the multiple appeals established important legal precedents that will hopefully make it easier for other offshore wind developers that follow,” he said in the statement.

In a statement, Audra Parker, the executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said Cape Wind “would have ruined the national treasure that is Nantucket Sound.” She said the alliance “intends to move forward with the strong and determined coalition we have forged to make certain that never again is a private developer given the rights to land that belongs to all of us.”

One of the ironies of the fight over Cape Wind is that Eversource Energy, which opposed Cape Wind and jumped at the chance to cancel its power purchase agreement with the project, is now a partner in a company pursuing offshore wind contracts with the state. That procurement is expected to move into high gear early next year.