Opponents Face Last Chance To Nix Cape Wind Plan

After battling for ten years, Cape Wind is facing its final regulatory hurdle. Proponents of what would be the nation's first off-shore wind farm, are making their case to Massachusetts utility officials that it would be a good deal for consumers and businesses. Opponents say Cape Wind will be bad for consumers, force electric rates up across the state and force many businesses to shut down. Anthony Brooks reports for member station WBUR.

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There's an effort underway to hammer out an understanding over the nation's first offshore wind farm. Supporters of Cape Wind in Massachusetts are making their case to state regulators, saying this is a good deal for consumers. Opponents are still trying to stop this project.

And from member station WBUR in Boston, we have more, this morning, from Anthony Brooks.

ANTHONY BROOKS: This may be one of the most vetted energy projects in the nation's history. There have been years of debate, environmental reviews, lawsuits, and approvals by state and federal authorities. Now, the final hurdle to build 130 wind turbines in the waters of Nantucket Sound is an obscure state panel the Massachusetts Public Utility Commission. It's a huge decision, worth billions of dollars. But for much of the last three weeks the questions and testimony have been virtually indecipherable.

Unidentified Man: I'm taking a slight deviation to the value of moderating system peak load requirements, because the company....

BROOKS: Buried in the dense technical jargon is a simple question: is the $2 billion project a good deal for the state?

Ms. AUDRA PARKER (President, CEO, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound): If this decision is made purely on the facts, it is very clear it is not cost-effective and it should be denied.

Brooks: This is Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. For years, the Alliance has bitterly opposed Cape Wind on environmental grounds. Now it argues that it will cost too much. At issue is a proposed contract between Cape Wind and National Grid, a major utility company in the state. National Grid would pay about twice as much for Cape Wind power as it currently pays for conventional power and Parker says National Grid customers would get stuck with the bill.

Ms. PARKER: So basically, you're looking at two and a half times market rates. This is basically a transfer of wealth from Massachusetts rate payers to a private developer.

Brooks: The opponents have gone so far as to say Cape Wind will bankrupt the state. Nonsense, say the proponents.

Mr. JIM GORDON (President, Cape Wind): For the last 10 years, the opponents of this project have put out misleading, fear mongering propaganda.

BROOKS: Jim Gordon, the President of Cape Wind, says it's misleading to compare the future price of wind power with the current price of conventional power. National Grid officials say Cape Wind will add just a buck-twenty to the average utility bill. And Gordon argues his wind farm will be able to sell renewable energy credits, which will bring the price down. He calls this a good deal.

Mr. GORDON: Because the cost of the wind is stable. It will never go up. As the economy recovers, fossil fuel prices will increase, so Cape Wind will become an increasingly better bargain.

BROOKS: But opponents describe Cape Wind as a sweet-heart deal - pushed aggressively by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who appointed the utility commissioners now deciding whether or not to approve the project. No surprise, that this argument has come up in the governor's race. Here's Republican candidate Charlie Baker, speaking at a recent debate.

Mr. CHARLIE BAKER: (Gubernatorial candidate, Republican, Massachusetts): Cape Wind is the wrong project in the wrong place for the wrong price. We're talking about a $2 billion project, $800 million in rate payer money. Cape Wind, folks, is a big bet.

BROOKS: His opponent, Governor Patrick, shot back that the more dangerous bet is counting on oil and gas prices to stay low.

Governor DEVAL PATRICK (Democrat, Massachusetts): Which is a mistake we have made in this country for 30 years. And I think we got to serious about it and stop running away from everything because it's new.

BROOKS: This decade-long debate will continue for at least one more month. That's when the state utility commission will decide whether or not to give a final green light to Cape Wind.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks in Boston.

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