Cape Wind debate enters new phase with Public Utilities hearings

Published 11/11 2013 10:18AM

Updated 02/17 2014 02:18PM

From Green Right Now Reports

Heated arguments over the proposed Cape Wind project in New England continue, with the debate moving into Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities hearings concerning rates proposed by the controversial offshore wind project – and, most likely, beyond.

On the cost front, opponents argue, wind may be environmentally friendly, but it isn't cheap. A starting price of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour is about twice that of electricity from fossil-fuel and land-based wind-power generators. Those rates also are scheduled to go up 3.5 percent per year for 15 years under terms of the contract being reviewed. That could cost ratepayers about $2.7 billion over 15 years.

Attorney General Martha Coakley's recent intervention in the case forced Cape Wind and National Grid to lower their originally proposed prices by 10 percent, or about $300 million in present-day dollars over 15 years. Those concessions helped negate some of the fervor over the cost issue, leaving opponents to consider other avenues of attack.

Three major opponents – TransCanada Energy, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound – are counting on non-cost issues to help derail the project. Those objections may spill over into further court battles after the DPU hearings.

  • TransCanada, which owns wind farms in Maine, says the bidding process for renewable energy in Massachusetts was originally flawed by requiring a "made in Massachusetts" clause in the recently passed Green Communities Act. TransCanada wants all long-term renewable energy contracts under the act to be re-bid.
  • AIM objects to the way that Cape Wind-National Grid rates would be spread among National Grid customers, saying it also violates the Green Communities Act.
  • The Nantucket Sound alliance challenges whether the Cape Wind-National Grid contract is being singled out for special treatment compared to other renewable energy bidding processes. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has long argued against the project, saying it will ruin the aesthetics of the tourism dependent area.

"In all my years covering energy issues, I have never seen a DPU case with this type of interest," said Bob Rio, senior vice president of AIM. "A typical DPU hearing usually has only two or three people (not directly) associated with it in the audience, and they're usually half asleep."

After years of heated debate, this argument shows no sign of coming to a quiet or harmonious end. The DPU hearings alone are expected to last for weeks.

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