Offshore wind farm fight costs millions in Massachusetts

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Offshore wind farm fight costs millions in Massachusetts

HYANNNIS, Mass.-The Cape Wind project overcame the latest in a labyrinth of regulatory hurdles in August when the Federal Aviation Administration ruled the project posed “no hazard” to aviation navigation in the Nantucket Sound area.

But whether Cape Wind’s planned 130 3.6-megawatt turbines will finally rise from the sea floor remains an ongoing drama. Community and business leaders living in nearby Martha’s Vineyard said it was “fish or cut bait” for the Cape Wind saga.

There’s still no end-game scenario for a struggle defined by deep pockets and high-level political negotiations amid nation goals to promote renewable energy.

“The money [adversaries] have poured into this is remarkable,” said John Abrams, president of an architecture firm specializing in energy-efficient homes that better incorporate renewables in Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s hard for me to figure why their opposition is so strong,” referring to the highly publicized battle between Cape Wind Associates and not-for-profit Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound over Cape Wind’s proposed site in Nantucket’s Horseshoe Shoal.

Abrams, who isn’t associated with Cape Wind, said he remains confident the development will be the first of many offshore wind farms installed along the Atlantic seaboard. The federal government has carved out hundreds of parcels from Massachusetts to Rhode Island for offshore-wind leasing.

But Cape Wind planners didn’t involve the public early enough, Abrams said.

“My particular complaint with Cape Wind is that from the start they did not think about local community benefits in a big way. So they did not involve the community as I think they should have. I think they would have avoided a lot of trouble,” he said.

That trouble for the proposed $2.5 billion renewable energy installation began almost from the start in 2001. Since then, the project has launched books, inspired a documentary film, challenged federal law and been a fountainhead for academic research. It’s also certainly meant a pile of legal bills for Cape Wind.

Cape Wind Associates, the Massachusetts-based, private company developing the project, isn’t required by law to disclose financial records. However, the expensive lawsuits, environmental and technical studies and permitting have cost the project about $50 million so far, estimated company spokesman Mark Rodgers.

The company’s most powerful adversary, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, has successfully managed a stalemate in the dollar-driven contest of wills.

As the most activist and outspoken opponent of the project, the alliance has brought lawsuits against the U.S. Energy Facilities Siting Board, the Army and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. While Massachusetts higher courts inevitably ruled in favor of Cape Wind on each occasion, alliance spokeswoman Audra Parker said she is certain the offshore wind farm will never see the light of day.

“Because I’m confident that we are correct and that we will win,” Parker said. “And I’m very confident, based on what I’ve seen with the FAA and other agencies, that there were a lot of corners cut.”

The alliance receives major funding from wealthy and influential residents of the Cape Cod-Nantucket Sound area such William Koch, an investor with a net worth of about $4 billion derived from oil and other investments.

Between 2002 and 2010, the alliance received $22.1 million in donations, according to tax documents filed by the nonprofit group with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. The alliance spent a combined $9.3 million on legal, public relations, and lobbying. Legal costs accounted for the lion’s share of the organization’s spending, amounting to roughly $6.5 million from 2002-2010. The alliance’s greatest legal expenditures occurred in 2010, when it launched its most recent lawsuit against Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, or the DPU.

The alliance argued DPU had violated the state constitution’s commerce clause in approving a power purchasing agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid, a utilities provider, and that DPU had incorrectly found the agreement to be both in the public interest and cost-effective. Under the terms of the agreement, National Grid would purchase 50 percent of Cape Wind’s power for almost twice as much as land-based generating alternatives.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on the case in December 2011 and determined “that the benefits of the agreement outweighed its costs…further, there was clearly sufficient evidence on which the department could conclude that approval of the agreement was in the public interest, i.e., that the special benefits of the agreement exceeded those of other renewable energy resources.”

Between 2004 and 2012, Cape Wind Associates and relevant Massachusetts governmental permitting and oversight bodies have been sued nine times in total by the alliance and other groups, including the town of Barnstable.

Jim Gordon, Cape Wind founder and president, first initiated a joint business venture between Energy Management Inc. and Wind Management LLP in 2001 and the Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Management Inc. its first siting permit in 2002, one to operate a scientific monitoring station in Nantucket Sound’s Horseshoe Shoal.

The first lawsuit followed, filed against the project in 2004.

According to Massachusetts Supreme Court documents, the plaintiffs, the Ten Taxpayers Citizen Group, argued Cape Wind Associates lacked sufficient licensing from the state of Massachusetts related to the protection of fisheries. A U.S. district court dismissed the case, finding the Cape Wind observation tower was in federal waters, not subject to Massachusetts’ law.

With all the lawsuits, why doesn’t Gordon just seek more inviting waters?

“Perfect combination of a windy site, shallow water, sandy bottom and some protection from open north Atlantic storm waves, we have the best sight in North America for offshore wind,” said Rodgers. “It’s been a long road, but we’re almost there now.”

“I’m not so sure there are a lot of other places,” said Richard Toole, a carpenter and former member of the Martha’s Vineyard Planning Commission. “I worked here with a committee on the island — after Cape Wind came along. It sort of took people by surprise, I think. There wasn’t a lot of public involvement before that.”

“In a way you want to choose the site where you have good wind conditions and ocean conditions and stakeholders,” said Alla Weinstein, owner of Principal Power, which is pioneering floating wind-turbine technology. “We do not want to spend precious money on building infrastructure.”

Nantucket Sound is shallow, close to shore, and possesses the necessary industrial and shipping infrastructure required to erect and deploy the massive 440-foot towers. It also isn’t as deep as many of the federal leasing sites becoming available on the outer continental shelf, making it less expensive.

“He [Jim Gordon] did not expect the backlash that he got from the community,” said Weinstein.

Cape Cod wind measurements

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