Sean Corcoran's Cape Wind Blog

The latest lowdown on the showdown from our lead reporter Sean Corcoran. 

 





June 14, 2012

The Associated Press is reporting that the Federal Aviation Administration felt political pressure to approve a permit for the Cape Wind project.

You can read all about it here.

Audra Parker has been saying for years that the FAA piece of Cape Wind's approval process is the place where the project is most vulnerable. Parker is the CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the primary opposition group to Cape Wind.

Right now, Cape Wind is without an FAA "no hazard" permit. The US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia struck down the permit last year, telling the agency to take a second look at the project and its own regulatory process. 

The concern boils down to whether pilots flying between Cape Cod and the Islands would be able to avoid the 440-foot tall turbines if they were flying by sight rather than instruments. And as you see in the AP article, that's exactly what FAA employees were concerned with.

But having its FAA permit vacated hasn't slowed Cape Wind down at all. It has all its other required state and federal permits are in hand, and the bulk of its anticipated electricity output already has customers.

In other news…

Michael Castle has found a new job. 

You'll remember that the former Republican governor of Delaware and nine-term U.S. representative lost his Congressional seat to Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell in September 2010. 

Now that it's been two years since his ouster, Castle is free to lobby his former colleagues. 

His first client? Cape Wind.

According to his first quarter 2012 Lobbyist Disclosure Report filed with the Office of the Clerk in the U.S. House, Castle and lobbyist Gary Klein were paid $30,000 by Cape Wind to lobby for different wind energy policies, as well as the extension of tax credits for offshore wind. 

Castle and Klein are listed as lobbyists with the powerhouse law firm DLA Piper, which has dozens of offices around the world, dealing mostly with emerging technology companies.

Castle has been interested in Cape Wind for awhile. Back in 2010, he released this statement in support of Cape Wind's federal approval. 

In other news…

I am one of the journalists featured in the new Cape Wind documentary, "Cape Spin! An American Power Struggle," which begins screening today at the Coolidge Theater. I'm quoted briefly in this Boston Herald review of the film. 

 

June 4, 2012
I just read this story from the energy trade publication, Rechargenews.com.

The article quotes a "senior Siemens executive" as saying that because Cape Wind cannot find a buyer for 22.5 percent of its anticipated electricity output, the wind farm project planned for Nantucket Sound will therefore include fewer turbines.

Rather than 130 turbines, Rechargenews.com reports there will be 101 turbines.

If the report is true, it's significant. Fewer turbines would change the array (the way the turbines would be arranged in the ocean), and it also would change the financials and shift the economies of scale. Heck, with fewer turbines, Cape Wind might have to go back to the state and get approval to charge more money for its electricity.

But before anyone gets all worked up, Cape Wind spokesperson Mark Rodgers gave a big thumbs down to the report from Rechargenews.com

"From what I read, this is speculation from an unnamed individual," Rodgers said. "It's a sidebar conversation that a guy with the trade press had with somebody at Siemens. Siemens is a pretty big place; I don't know how knowledgeable that guy was."

Rodgers was clear that Cape Wind's plans have not changed: "Our plan is to install 130 turbines."

Also, the latest update from Cape Wind on when construction will begin is, "Sometime next year," Rodgers said.

May 24, 2012


State energy regulators visited Barnstable last night to hear Cape Codders -- and others -- talk about NSTAR's proposal to buy and sell more than a quarter of the electricity anticipated from the Cape Wind project -- the 130-turbine wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound. 

More than 125 people attended the public hearing about the merits of a 15-year contract that would have NSTAR buy nearly 28 percent of Cape Wind's power.  
NSTAR would pay about 19 cents per kilowatt hour -- more than double the current market price. The utility says the increase works out to about a dollar and eight cents more per month for the average residential customer. Falmouth resident Bill Eddy said it's a price he's willing to pay for renewable energy.

"Every single one of my living costs has increased dramatically over the years," Eddy said. "I'm paying more for food, for gas, for just the insurance on my home. Paying 12 dollars more a year for changing how America looks at its energy future seems to be a small price to pay."

Falmouth resident  and Boston College student Annie Myer, 19, said she's been hearing about Cape Wind since she was 10 years old, and she's ready to see the turbines in the water.

"I will look at the turbines and smile," Myer said, "because though they are manmade, they harness renewable resources, and that's where our brighter future lies."
While supporters testified that Cape Wind would provide emissions-free electricity and reduce America's reliance on fossil fuels, opponents such as David Moriarty said it would jeopardize the Cape's two primary industries: fishing and tourism.

"This is no joke," he said. "This is our economic engine. This is the only thing we have to support our families. Do you understand that? This is our livelihood. This is everything. That is why we fight so hard for this."

Cape Wind received federal approval in April 2010, but it's had some setbacks. Last year a federal judge tossed out a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, ordering regulators to take another look at the project's potential impact on air traffic. The project also failed to receive a federal loan guarantee, which could make it more difficult to attract investors. Still, Cape Wind officials expect construction to begin by early next year, and they say having NSTAR and National Grid both on board to buy Cape Wind power is a significant step toward having turbines spinning in Nantucket Sound.


April 11, 2012

With Cape Wind's announcement this week that a team of three companies -- what Cape Wind officials call a "joint venture team" -- will coordinate the Cape Wind project, it raises the question: What will this mean for New Bedford?

New Bedford has long been the talked-about location for the Cape Wind staging area, and it is working to develop a 20-acre site at South Terminal for the work. But it's no secret that Rep. Bill Keating would like Cape Wind's construction staging area in Quincy, his home city -- or, at least it was until redistricting prompted the Democratic congressman to move to his Cape Cod summer home in order to avoid facing Democrat Stephen Lynch in the next election.

New Bedford makes sense. It is well sited to provide access to both Cape Wind's chosen location in Nantucket Sound, as well as potential future offshore wind sites in Rhode Island and south of Martha's Vineyard. Governor Deval Patrick has promoted New Bedford. And, as anyone in the city will tell you, New Bedford needs all the jobs it can get.

Still, with the region's Congressman pushing Quincy, New Bedford's hold on the upcoming turbine construction project could be a bit tenuous. And now that Cashman Equipment Corp. has been named one of the three construction contractors, does that help or hinder New Bedford's bid? 

Before you answer, consider this: Cashman Equipment Corp. is owned by Jamie Cashman. Quincy Shipyard is partly owned by Jay Cashman -- Jamie's brother. And if you've been following the offshore wind issue for a few years, you might remember that Jay Cashman is interested in the renewable energy business. Several years ago he was willing to spend almost a billion dollars to build an offshore wind farm in Buzzards Bay called South Coast Wind. The project went nowhere.

With all that said, here's a word problem: If developer X is given a contract for an offshore construction project that needs seaport access. And developer X's brother is part-owner of a nearby shipyard. Does the likelihood increase or decrease that the nearby shipyard will be chosen as the project's staging and assembly area?

It was a trick question. 

Prima facially, it appears that Keating will get what he wants and Quincy Shipyard will be the place barges will be loaded with turbine parts bound for Nantucket Sound. But in my view, New Bedford is still the leader in the quest to get in on the Cape Wind project. Why? Because it's well-known that Jay and Jamie Cashman -- brothers and former business partners -- are not friendly.

There's a famous story about the Cashmans that has been told in different media articles, including in Boston Magazine a few years back. It's about how in 1994, after Jaime accused Jay of stealing money from their company -- a claim never prosecuted or proven -- the two brothers got into a fist fight in their lawyer's office.

Now, maybe the Cashman brothers are thick as thieves again. But from what I hear, that's not the case.

Cape Wind officials repeatedly have said that if New Bedford is ready in time for construction, it will be the chosen site. And if family animosity is alive and kicking, it's hard to believe that Jamie is going to be handing Jay work. That would mean that all New Bedford needs to do is meet Cape Wind's timeline.

What is Cape Wind's timeline, and when would New Bedford need to be ready? It's hard to say, and I've got some calls out seeking the answer. In any case, the New Bedford site is still waiting for EPA approval before construction can begin.

Another question: What if New Bedford's site is not ready in time? I asked that one to Cape Wind spokesperson Mark Rodgers, and his answer did not include the word, "Quincy."

"If the New Bedford site is ready for us in time for our use, we said we are going to use it," Rodgers said. "But if it isn't, there is a facility in Rhode Island. But our desire is for local companies."

Wouldn't that just be a kick in the pants to local wind advocates -- including Gov. Patrick -- if construction and assembly jobs went to Quonsett Point on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, rather than somewhere in the Bay State? Massachusetts wouldn't be so much a leader in offshore wind development jobs as mush as a giver of offshore wind development jobs.

Speaking of jobs, let's not forget that last fall Mass Tank of Middleboro, Mass, signed a letter of intent with Cape Wind to provide the monopolies that will be drilled into the sandy bed of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound as foundations for the Siemens 3.6 MW turbines . Does that deal still stand? Not really.

In an interview, Rodgers said the decision will be up to the "joint venture team" of Flatiron Construction Corp, Cal Dive International and Cashman Equipment Corp.

"The way this is structured with the joint venture, it is going to fall to their responsibility (to decide)," Rodgers said, adding, "we are encouraging the joint venture to maximize the potential for local companies."

Mass Tank president and CEP Carl Horstmann said Cape Wind president Jim Gordon has been very supportive of Mass Tank, and the company is still ready to be involved and expects it will be.

"We are looking to be one of the subcontractors," Horstmann said. "We have a letter of intent from Cape Wind, and we are trying to figure out the timing of when this is going to happen. And we're looking forward to getting into the renewable energy business."

Cape Wind -- and renewable energy in general -- represents hundreds of jobs to Mass Tank, Horstmann said. Over the last month, the steel fabrication company has added 10 position to help provide land-based turbine towers for a project in Plymouth. An additional 20 to 30 jobs will be added in 2012 to assist with the land-based turbine work. And Hostmann says Cape Wind represents another 300 to 500 jobs.

"There is no supply chain set up for offshore wind, because there is no offshore wind," Horstmann said. "So we are looking to be among the first movers."

As for Mass Tank's preference, New Bedford or Quincy, Horstmann says a decision has not been made, but when it is, it will be up to Mass Tank to decide its base of operations.

"We do not have a preference," he said. "We are evaluating a couple sites, and we're just trying to understand what the timing of the project is and what the costs are with any sites. It becomes complicated with permitting and dredging."

There's that "timing" issue again. For his part, Horstmann declined to discuss exactly when a facility would need to be ready to meet its and Cape Wind's needs, saying, "I'm reluctant to talk about dates because it is such a moving target and we have no control over it."

A "moving target," indeed. Remember, if I had a baby the same year Cape Wind was proposed, Junior would be getting ready for high school in the fall. Approval dates, target dates, construction dates -- these things don't mean a lot when one considers all the ups and downs Cape Wind has experienced since it first was proposed in 2001. 

In any case, Cape Wind has said it expects to begin construction in 2013. The project continues to gain momentum, recently concluding deals to sell nearly 80 percent of its power. But opponents note that Cape Wind still has one outstanding permit from the FAA that must be cleared up; it is presently searching for project financiers; and there are several outstanding lawsuits.

April 3, 2012

Depending upon your perspective, two recent pieces of Cape Wind news easily could illicit a, "What a bargain!" or a, "What a boondoggle!" response.

Let's start with the "Bargain!" news.

A report prepared by the Charles River Associates and released on March 29 finds that Cape Wind will lower New England energy prices. 

The analysis concludes that Cape Wing "would lead to a reduction in the wholesale cost of power averaging $286 million annually over the years 2014 to 2038, resulting in an aggregate savings of $7.2 billion over 25 years."

The report goes on to predict that Cape Wind will lower the wholesale power market by $1.86 per MWh over the years 2014-2038.

The savings will come from Cape Wind's prices displacing higher cost generation, the report reads. Because wind power has almost zero operating costs, and because it is free of greenhouse gas emissions, the wind farm's power will displace other higher-cost generation from higher-polluting power plants. The amount of savings change year-to-year, depending upon the addition and subtraction in the market of other electricity generators.

I like good news as much as anyone else, and this all may end up being true. But the skeptic in me has two concerns: 

1) The report is based upon assumptions and projections -- natural gas and oil price projections, inflation estimates, and the planned and assumed retirements of other energy generators in New England. It's difficult to predict what will happen with oil and gas prices next week, forget about 25 years in the future. Also, sometimes power plants do not retire when people expect them to.

2) My second concern is that this report was paid for and prepared for Cape Wind Associates. Now, nothing against the good folks at Charles River Associates, but I have trouble with studies paid for by the industry or business that potentially will benefit. For example, I'm skeptical of studies paid for by the cigarette and nuclear industries.

Let's move on to the "Boondoggle!" news.

The Associated Press has done an analysis of the recent power purchase agreement that has NStar buying 27.5 percent of Cape Wind's anticipated output. That 15-year, $1.6 billion contract will add $1.08 to the monthly bill of the average residential customer, the AP reports. It's not known what the increase would be to businesses -- such as big box stores and electricity-dependent restaurants -- which typically have much higher consumption than residents.

Why the increase in cost? Because, the AP determined, NStar will pay $940 million above the market price of conventional electricity during those 15 years -- or, more than double the price. (This analysis also is based on energy-price projections, so you might want to hold onto some skepticism.)

It's worth noting that Cape Wind power would increase evener if wind-related tax credits are not renewed by Congress.

As I meet and talk with people about Cape Wind, the most common misconception I encounter is the belief that wind power is less expensive than conventional power providers. I understand where that idea comes from; after all, wind is free. But there are all sorts of reasons why wind power is more expensive, everything from the intermittent nature of wind, to the high cost of turbine purchase, installation and maintenance. 

It's indisputable that wind-generated electricity costs more, but this is a debate that goes beyond the simple dollars and cents. In the face of climate change, many people are willing to pay more for electricity that comes from a renewable source. There's also the incalculable benefit of less reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels. 


March 5, 2012

Put another win in the Cape Wind column. 

Late last month, Gov. Deval Patrick announced that as part of a state-sanctioned merger between power distributors NStar and Northeast Utilities, the new combined electrical company will purchase nearly 30 percent of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output.

The merger still must be approved by the Department of Public Utilities, but it's hard to imagine that the DPU would reject the deal. However, just what regulators will do in Connecticut, where Northeast is based, is less certain.

Putting Connecticut aside, it now appears that Cape Wind has buyers lined up for 80 percent of its anticipated power. With customers waiting at the window, it can concentrate on attracting financing and actually getting the long-reviewed, long-anticipated, and sometimes seen as a long-shot renewable energy project built.

Just when will it be built? I've spent the past seven years making educated guesses -- wrongly. Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said, "There is no hard and fast date. Obviously the sooner the better. We would like to be able to begin construction sometime next year, and that will depend on the pace of our financing efforts."

With contracts in-hand for nearly 80 percent of Cape Wind's power, Rodgers said project leaders are now fully engaged in attracting financing. 

It makes sense that banks and financiers would hold off on cutting checks until they received assurance that Cape Wind's power could be sold. With this latest news, we can only wonder how long it will take to line up financing. Rodgers said Cape Wind officials already have had preliminary discussions with financial backers, but nothing is set.

One business that may step up with cash to build Cape Wind is Siemens. The Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer already is in line to supply Cape Wind its 130 turbine, and the business has said it also would like to be part of the project financing.

Siemens' interest makes sense. If Cape Wind was in line to be the nations 10th offshore wind farm, Siemens' probably would not get involved. But if Siemens can help the offshore wind industry get moving, that makes tremendous business sense as Siemens would undoubtedly be a primary turbine provider here in the United States. 

January 11, 2012

An evaluation of the Cape Wind project by ISO New England, which oversees the region's wholesale electricity market, has determined that the project will not be ready to generate electricity within the next three-and-a-half years.

That news was contained on page 18 of this January 3 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In it, ISO New England said its consultants have determined it is "unlikely" Cape Wind's 130 turbines will achieve commercial operation by June 2015. 

ISO New England spokesperson Marcia Blomberg said the ISO is required to be certain that the energy resources are in place to meet demand. In this case, an evaluation of resources was done for a one-year period between June 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016 in advance of an electricity auction. 

"The ISO and its consultants," the document reads, "evaluated the information contained in the critical path schedule submitted by (Cape Wind) and have determined it is unlikely that the project will achieve commercial operation by the start of the 2015-2016 Capacity Commitment Period."

The ISO looked at a variety of criteria to determine if a generator could auction off power in the 2015-2016 period, Blomberg said, including whether it had all its necessary permits, whether it could be properly connected to the grid, and whether financing was in place, among other factors. The Cape Wind project was one of 37 potential electricity generators that were not accepted for the auction.

While Cape Wind will not be allowed to auction off its electricity in this 2015-2016 period, Blomberg said there are other auctions available should things fall into place and Cape Wind is up and running sooner than ISO's evaluation determined.

A spokesperson for the Cape Wind project disagreed.

"That's their opinion, and we respectfully disagree," said Cape Wind spokesperson Mark Rodgers.

Cape Wind officials expect to begin construction at the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013, and Rodgers said the project is expected to be in commercial operation in part or in full by the June 2015 date. 

But Rodgers also understood why the ISO would exclude Cape Wind from the auction, since the ISO must be completely certain that the necessary energy resources are in place to meet demand.

"Their standard is very, very high," he said. 

"This really does not have much of an impact on us commercially," he said. "There is an auction every year, so at most you'll be talking about one year that you wouldn't be able to enter in the auction."

Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said ISO's determination just confirms what the Alliance already knew.

"Our position is that it is never going to be built," she said. "But it is a clear acknowledgement they are facing some clear and insurmountable difficulties. … I think it's significant that ISO New England is acknowledging the fact Cape Wind is nowhere near a reality."

Although the Department of the Interior approved the Cape Wind project in April 2010, it still faces judicial challenges. Last year a key permit from the Federal Aviation Administration was rejected by a federal court. The project also needs to find a buyer for the remaining 50 percent of its anticipated electricity output.

December 28, 2011

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has no problem with the state-sanctioned power purchase agreement (PPA) between Cape Wind and the utility National Grid.

In a 34-page ruling, Justice Margot Botsford wrote that the PPA to buy Cape Wind power is consistent with state law, and that the state's Department of Public Utilities did a "thorough" review of the agreement. And just like the DPU, the SJC determined there is evidence that the deal is in the public interest.

"This decision provides a big boost for creating up to 1,000 jobs and providing Massachusetts with cleaner air, greater energy independence and a leadership position in offshore wind power," said Cape Wind president Jim Gordon in a statement. 

The PPA has National Grid purchase 50 percent of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output beginning in 2013. It has been controversial, mostly because of the cost. The agreement sets a rate of 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would increase 3.5 percent each year for the 15-year term of the contract. 

National Grid estimates that the cost will translate to a total monthly bill increase of $1.59 for a typical residential customer. Nationally last year, the average retail price for electricity was 9.88 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, although prices vary greatly by state.

Opponents of Cape Wind say the agreed price is too high, and that National Grid should have expanded its search to find cheaper sources of renewable energy in other states in order to meet Massachusetts renewable energy requirements. 

In a statement, Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind's primary opposition group, called the court decision "moot," because Cape Wind still lacks a key permit from the Federal Aviation Administration; it has been denied federal loan guarantees; and it still does not have a second utility on board to buy the remaining 50 precent of Cape Wind's anticipated power.

"Today's ruling is a blow to ratepayers, businesses and municipalities," Parker wrote, "who are being asked to bear billions of dollars in new electricity costs when other green energy alternatives are available at a fraction of the cost. The good news is the increasingly clear reality that Cape Wind will never be built."

For several years Cape Wind was on a  winning streak, garnering permit approvals and positive court decisions. But lately the effort to construct 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has experienced some set-backs. 

As Parker alluded to, a key FAA permit recently was struck down by the federal courts, requiring the FAA to go back and reexamine how the turbines would affect aviation between Cape Cod and the Islands. Also, without a buyer for the remaining 50 percent of Cape Wind electricity, the project developers will have trouble attracting construction financing. 

That said, after nearly a decade of negotiating the regulatory process, Cape Wind officials have given no indication that they're willing to give up the fight.


December 22, 2011

Clean Power Now, a Cape Cod-based, non-profit organization that helped build community support for the Cape Wind project while advocating for wind power in general, announced today that it will disband by the end of the month.

In an email to supporters, Executive Director Barbara Hill and CPN's Governing Board wrote that the decision is "bittersweet, but both the governing board and the staff feel that our core mission has been accomplished through our work as citizen advocates for America's first fully permitted offshore wind farm -- Cape Wind."

The Cape Wind project was approved by the federal government last April, but it still faces judicial challenges. Earlier this year a key permit from the Federal Aviation Administration was rejected by a federal court. The project also needs to find a buyer for the remaining 50 percent of its anticipated electricity output.

It's difficult to determine its exact impact, but CPN was an active participant in the Cape Wind fight. It regularly countered assertions by the project's primary opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, while also hosting rallies and submitting op-ed pieces to local newspapers. CPN's executive director Barbara Hill often appeared alongside Jim Gordon, Cape Wind's developer, at press conferences.

"Today, a strong majority supports the Cape Wind project," Hill wrote in the email to supporters, "and the project has cleared all local, state and federal reviews, with help from Clean Power Now at each step along the way."

Gordon praised CPN in a statement, saying, "Time and time again, Clean Power Now mobilized and provided effective advocacy on behalf of America's first proposed offshore wind farm and renewable energy."

A second CPN email also indicated that competition among non-profits may have played a role in the group's decision to disband. 

"The challenges to non-profits these days are well known," wrote William Allen, president of CPN's Governing Board, "and the offshore wind space has changed dramatically since the success with Cape Wind with a host of larger non-profits filling the space and competing for limited resources."

In a statement sent to WCAI Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind's spokesperson, indicated that support for both pro- and anti-Cape Wind groups has dropped off.

"I think after Secretary (of the Interior Kenneth) Salazar approved Cape Wind and granted us a lease last year that many of (Clean Power Now's) members rightly felt a sense of 'Mission Accomplished'," Rodgers wrote, "but that also made it harder for their organization to continue to move forward with the same energy as they had in the past."

Wednesday, December 14

While covering the Cape Wind project for the past five years, I've encountered quite a few people who have changed their thinking on the plan to install 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. Some people started out as supporters, only to have a change of heart and oppose it. While others initially were sternly opposed, only to find a reason to support the project.

Enter David Gessner. We like and respect David over here at the Cape and Islands NPR Station. He's a naturalist writer, a clear thinker and a lover of Cape Cod. And while his opinion about Cape Wind is just that -- an opinion -- I think his most recent essay about Cape Wind is worth reading, no matter where you stand -- or where you stood -- on the Cape Wind project.

Read Gessner's essay here.

There is a small section of the essay that really struck me. It's when Gessner is standing on the beach with Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon. Gordon points towards the water where Cape Wind would be installed, he holds up his thumb and says, "From here the turbines will be six or seven miles out. They'll be as big as my thumbnail."

Unlike Gessner, I have not come to a personal decision regarding how I feel about Cape Wind. I've purposely tried not to search my soul to determine if I am pro-CW or anti-CW, mostly because there is no upside to that in my work. 

Still, I've always wondered just how big those turbines will appear on the horizon. If any part of me wants to see them installed, it's the curiosity in my gut. It wants to know, Who was right? Will the turbines appear as large as Gordon's thumbnail, or closer to the size of his Mr. Pointy? Will they kill birds, disrupt local fishing and drive away tourists? I'm curious -- just who has been correct, honest and forthright in this decade-long debate?

The problem is, once we have the answers, we may not like all that we've learned.

Wednesday, November 2

The US Court of Appeals in Washington overturned a key permit Friday issued to Cape Wind by the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The FAA' s permit had allowed the construction of the project's 130-wind turbines to go forward in 25-square miles of Nantucket Sound, with the FAA saying the Cape Wind project would pose "no hazard" to the thousands of flights that go back and forth between Cape Cod and the Islands each year.

But the Appeals Court essentially repealed that permit, saying that the FAA hadn't followed its own rules. It sent the issue back to the FAA for further review. The FAA will now look at the issue again and determine if Cape Wind needs to reapply for the permit.

The court also pointed out that the Department of the Interior, which has the ultimate federal jurisdiction over Cape Wind, may indeed rethink the project's approval if the FAA changes its position and determines Cape wind would be a hazard to air traffic.

Audra Parker, the president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the primary opposition group to Cape Wind, called the ruling a "major setback" for the project. 

Both the Alliance and the town of Barnstable were plaintiffs in this case. And for years, Parker has said that the FAA piece of the Cape Wind permitting process is where the project is most vulnerable, simply because it is common for flights going over Nantucket Sound to fly below the cloud cover and without instrumentation during bad weather. 

This ruling is a setback for Cape Wind. Here we had a project with seemingly all its permitting in hand and ready to go. Cape Wind had moved on to the  finance part of the project. Now it has to go back and perhaps re-start one of the major permitting processes. 

But Mark Rodgers, spokesperson for the Cape Wind project, downplayed the ruling, saying that even if Cape Wind has to reapply for the FAA permit, it won't affect the project timeframe. And the last time I spoke with Rodgers about the timeframe, he said it was looking like construction would begin in late 2012.

Rodgers also said that its FAA permit was set to expire within the next 90 days -- the permits only last for two years --  so Cape Wind was going to have to reapply for the permit anyway. Rodgers said he's "confident" the FAA's decision will stand.

Even with this ruling, the major problem Cape Wind faces right now is its financing. It has National Grid as a buyer for half its expected power generation. But so far the other 50 percent is unsold. Without buyers for the power, Cape Wind is having trouble getting financing and investors to put money into the project to begin construction.

 

October 13, 2011

If you're eagerly awaiting the day you can look across Nantucket Sound and watch wind turbine blades slowly spin as they reach 440 feet into the air, you've got some more waiting to do.

In March, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon told me he expected project construction to begin late this year. But with half of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output still unsold, project spokesperson Mark Rodgers says the timeline has been pushed back.

"Our hope would be to begin construction sometime before the end of next year," Rodgers said.

To be clear, by "next year," Rodgers means 2012  -- A.D.

I've lost track of how many times I've written about delays to the start of project construction. All the permits are in hand, and while court challenges continue, the real stickler is the financing.

"We're not going to work on construction until we secure project financing," Rodgers said. "And I cannot go into detail on that. Suffice to say we are still working on it."

That leads us to the utility NStar. NStar is looking to merge with Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities, and an effort is underway to have state approval of the merger be contingent on purchasing renewable energy from Cape Wind.

NStar is pushing back, saying it buys wind energy as required by state law, but it gets it from land-based wind sources that are cheaper than the 19 cents per kilowatt hour rate Cape Wind will charge. 

According to the Associated Press, in a filing with the state Department of Public Utilities yesterday, NStar attorneys wrote, "the Department has no authority under (state law), or any other statutory provision to impose a requirement to enter into a long-term contract for renewable power."

Just when the merger fight will be finished is unclear. But, for what it's worth, the race to see which company will construct the first offshore wind farm in the United States continues. 

I've been writing about this horserace for years. Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, Delaware, the Great Lakes states -- it seems every month a journalist is saying that THIS project in THIS state may be the first. 

This week a Reuters story labels Deepwater Wind in Rhode Island as the likely frontrunner. With Cape Wind's financing still in limbo, Rhode Island may indeed be first. We'll see. All I knw is that Cape Wind continues to retain the phrase "America's First Offshore Wind Farm" on its website.

 

October 6, 2011

The political push to get NStar to purchase electricity from the Cape Wind project continues.

Both the governor's office and Cape Wind officials are applying a full-court press to have NStar buy a large portion, if not all of the remaining 50 percent of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output. 

Power distributor National Grid already is onboard to buy half the power, but NStar officials have shown no interest in purchasing Cape Wind electricity, indicating in media reports that the electricity is too expensive and cheaper sources of renewable energy are available to fulfill state requirements.

But without NStar buying electricity, Cape Wind is in a tough spot. It essentially needs buyers lined up for all its electricity before the project can be financed for construction and attract investors. 

The Patrick Administration, which has served as a champion of the project, has long pushed NStar to become a Cape Wind customer. It may now have an opening to see that happen.

NStar has an application before state regulators to merge with Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities. Cape Wind supporters, including the Patrick Administration, are urging state regulators to approve the merger on the condition that NStar commit to buying Cape Wind power.

In a Sept. 28 letter to the Department of Public Utilities, Dennis J. Duffy of Cape Wind Associates (CWA) urged regulators to evaluate whether the merger would advance the state's renewable energy goals.

"CWA requests," Duffy wrote, "that the department condition its approval of the proposed merger transaction in a manner that would assure net benefits to the public, with specific respect to teh greenhouse gas and renewable energy policy agendas of the Commonwealth.

"In particular, conditions should include the purchase by the Applicants (NStar and Northeast Utilities), as merged entities, of the remaining output of the CWA project."

For its part, NStar is optimistic that the merger will be judged on its merits, not on any requirements that it buy power from Cape Wind.

"We would hope that any decision on Cape Wind would not affect any decision on our merger," NStar spokeswoman Caroline Allen told the Boston Globe.

And it's not just Cape Wind and its political ally Gov. Deval Patrick pushing for the stipulation. The Conservation Law Foundation, another strong Cape Wind supporter, also has asked regulators to compel the utility to buy Cape Wind power as a way of promoting offshore wind power in the state.

With its approvals in hand, there seems to be only two things standing in the way of a full build-out of Cape Wind -- court challenges and financing. If the DPU opts to compel NStar to buy power from Cape Wind, the project is one significant step closer to becoming a reality. If DPU regulators refuse (which seems unlikely), the project faces an uncertain future.

 

September 15, 2011

Last week attorneys for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound -- the primary opposition group to Cape Wind -- argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that an agreement to have National Grid purchase half of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output is unconstitutional. We now wait for an SJC decision.

This week, Alliance attorneys, as well as lawyers from the town of Barnstable, which owns the Barnstable Municipal Airport, appeared in federal court to appeal a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the project to go forward.

Barnstable and the Alliance argued in front of the United States Court of Appeals Wednesday that the 440-foot height of the 130 turbines, and the approximately 25-mile footprint they would occupy, creates a safety risk to the pilots and passengers in the 400,000 flights per year over Nantucket Sound.

According to an Alliance press release, Barnstable attorney Charlie McLaughlin argued that the FAA acted in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" by ignoring submitted evidence that allegedly demonstrated that the turbines would create an aviation hazard and interfere with existing FAA radar facilities.

"Our responsibility is to the safety of our residents and visitors," McLaughlin reportedly said. "Airspace over the Sound is unique due to its heavy volume of low altitude flights concentrated in the summer season and in an area of frequent fog and rapidly changing weather. As a result this project poses a hazard to passenger safety and the economic health of the region."

In May 2010, the FAA released its determination that the project is "no hazard" and will not affect radar. The ruling also survived an administrative appeal

Cape Wind has vowed to provide the FAA with any funds it needs to update or improve nearby radar facilities at Otis Air National Guard Base.

September 7, 2011

Opponents of the Cape Wind project will have their day in court this week -- one of probably many days, considering there's more than a half-dozen related legal challenges underway.

On Thursday, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound will argue before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, challenging the state's approval of an agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid. That agreement has National Grid purchasing half of Cape Wind's anticipated electricity output at a rate of 19 cents per kilowatt hour, with an annual increase of 3.5 percent each year.

In a statement released today, the Alliance argues that the contract sets a precedent "by allowing utilities to negotiate extensive power agreements outside of the competitive bidding process," and that the cost of the contracts are "unfairly" passed along to residential and commercial customers.

Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance, said in a statement, "If the overarching goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Cape Wind is the wrong choice. Ratepayers could get more than twice the emission reductions and more than twice the power for the same amount of money from a variety of far lower priced renewable resources."

The Alliance is fond of pointing to NSTAR, the other large electricity distributor in Massachusetts, which has refused to purchase Cape Wind power, and instead has signed contracts with three land-based wind projects with a fixed price of less than 10 cents per kilowatt hours, according to the Alliance.

Cape Wind is still looking for another buyer (or perhaps buyers) for the other 50 percent of its anticipated electricity production. It's generally recognized that until that power is sold, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to find financing for the project's construction.
 

August 17, 2011

 

If you hadn't heard, there's a horse race afoot and the leader keeps changing.

This week we learned that Texas may be the first state to install an offshore wind farm. That would mean the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound will have to change its branding, or at the very least its Website that proclaims it "America's First Offshore Wind Farm."

Previous participants in the race to put turbines in the ocean include Maine, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and some states along the Great Lakes. It's a crowded field. Since Cape Wind received its federal approval last April, it looked as though Massachusetts would win the race. 

But here comes Texas.

According to Renewableenergyworld.com, Texas is close to installing a 12 MW project in state waters off the coast of Galveston Island. Other reports indicate that Texas is looking to eventually generate as much as 300-MW in the area. To give that wattage some context, Cape Wind plans a 420-MW installation with 130 turbines (I'm unclear exactly how many turbines Texas is looking at).

Wind watchers have been talking about the "race to be first" for more than six years. Now, both Texas and Massachusetts projects are permitted and designed. But they both have the same problem -- financing. Cape Wind has a buyer for only half its 420-MW generation, while Coastal Point Energy's Texas project doesn't have any buyers on board yet.

The race goes on and on.

In other news…

Another competitor in the race to be first is Rhode Island, which has two oprojects planned. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Rhode Island this week to promote wind development off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Salazar basically invited development and lease applications for offshore wind projects in an area of water southwest of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and south of Rhode Island. The 418-nautical-square-mile site -- known as the Call area -- was identified by both states last year as a good place for turbines. You can find a map of it here. And if you look at the  map, note Block Island's location.

Salazar also asked that the public provide comment and information about the site "conditions, resources and multiple uses." You can comment here.

In other news…

Apparently part-time Osterville resident and coal magnate Bill Koch is not the only magnate who doesn't want to look at wind turbines from his property. Real estate magnate and birther conspiracy theorist Donald Trump doesn't either.

The British press is reporting that the television star will use "any legal means" to stop an offshore wind farm near a championship golf course he is constructing in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

A spokesperson for Trump's organization told the press that the wind farm would "compromise" his golf project. 

Lots of people say Koch is eager to stop Cape Wind because he is in the fossil fuel business. I never bought that. It always made more sense to me that he would want to stop Cape Wind for the same reason Trump doesn't want turbine's near the 18th hole -- he doesn't want to look at them. If Koch was hellbent on stopping all offshore wind development in the United States, we'd see him contributing money to anti-wind groups up and down the East Coast, not just on Cape Cod.

That said, this report has me rethinking my position.

The British press says Trump is unlikely to succeed in his bid to prevent the politically-popular wind project. Predictions of Koch's success with Cape Wind are less certain.

August 8, 2011

Last week I reported that I was heading over to Martha's Vineyard for a sneak preview of the feature-length documentary about the Cape Wind project called, "Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle". 

I was interviewed for the film, and I was invited to view it at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, and then discuss it as part of a small panel that included myself, co-director Robbie Gemmel and Paul Pimentel of Vineyard Power.

Here's my one-word description of the event and panel discussion: Wild.

I wish you were there. I'll give you my take on the movie in a moment because the most interesting part of the entire night came after the final credits. As we started the panel discussion, Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, stood to give her impressions.

Now Parker is heavily featured in the movie, along with Barbara Hill of Clean Power Now. Hill is the Cape Wind advocate and Parker is the opponent. Both gave the film's producers a great amount of access to their lives and work. Parker, for example, traveled to Washington, DC, with the producers, and she even allowed cameras into her home to interview three of her children about the project.

But apparently, if Parker could, she would take that access right back and not have a thing to do with Cape Spin. Because after the film aired, Parker sounded off.

"I think it made a mockery of how important this issue is," Parker said, saying she was "disappointed" with the producers choices of, among other things, music and stock film footage, and that the film was "misleading."

"I spent four years letting you document this … You've done your best to sell a movie," Parker said, arguing that the film was more about entertainment than information. 

"It's a full-out sellout," she said.

Usually "sell-outs" are good for films. And the Union Chapel was about two-thirds full for the event. But Parker was not complimenting, she was complaining.

"I think it's a commercial sellout for what is a serious issue to fishermen and rate payers in Massachusetts," she said, not long before leaving the event before the panel discussion was concluded.

From what I could gather, Parker was primarily upset with discussion in the film about mountaintop removal in the South that is used as part of the coal mining process. The film included a montage of mountains being blown up, all set to renditions of "America the Beautiful". 

Gemmel said producers certainly were not trying to make a mockery of the project's opposition, though he acknowledged that films must be entertaining.

After hearing Parker's remarks, I asked Mark Rodgers, Cape Wind's spokesperson, to give his response to the film:

"I thought it portrayed both sides," Rodgers said. "I could give you a laundry list of things that could be in there but are not -- but you have 80 minutes, and you have to take it to a national audience."

Among the audience there seemed to be general agreement that the film was skewered towards supporting the project and that the producers themselves were the ones "spinning."

But my take was a bit different. I thought the film raised most all of the opponents' issues, although sometimes they were not in great depth. But if you were in Middle America and not too aware of the fight surrounding Cape Wind, you would walk away from this film thinking the issue is much more complicated than NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard. 

NIMBY has been the theme of choice for almost all national journalists visiting the Cape Wind issue. But opponents have legitimate concerns about the price of Cape Wind's electricity, it's impact on fishing and how the project is viewed by local Native American tribes. I think those concerns come across in the film, and viewers are left to weigh them against the virtues of the offshore wind turbine project.

Again, I wish you were there, and I wish the scene from Union Chapel was itself recorded and included in the film. The fight for Nantucket Sound has been nothing if not dramatic.

You can read some coverage of the event here in the Martha's Vineyard Gazette. 


Aug. 2, 2011

There are a number of Cape Wind-related stories in the news this week (here's one, and here's another), and they're all talking about the documentary "Cape Spin," which will premier tonight on Martha's Vineyard.

The sneak preview is presented by the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival. You can see the trailer for the film and get information about the preview here.

I was one of the journalists interviewed for the film. I remember being a little concerned about what the film makers were up to, just because so much of the reporting about Cape Wind seems to have an editorial slant to it. But I found the producers to be fair and interested in all perspectives. Still, I'm eager to see what went into the movie and what stayed out.

We'll see what the producers came up with at the screening. I'll be there, and I will participate in a discussion following the screening with film director Robbie Gemm

To You It's general-donate-adlob