By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service:
For a couple of years now, Beacon Hill insiders have viewed the once-vaunted Cape Wind Energy Project as dead, a victim of local opposition, persistent lawsuits, financing challenges, and power purchase and permitting setbacks.
As recently as this summer, the Massachusetts Legislature wrote language into an offshore wind energy development bill that essentially disqualified the Nantucket Sound project from competing for the long-term energy contracts called for under a law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Cape Wind officials in June ripped that legislative maneuver as “anti-competitive and unconstitutional,” but since then have largely gone dark, declining to respond to News Service inquiries about the project’s status.
But it appears Cape Wind President Jim Gordon’s vision is still alive for a project that in 2010 secured U.S. Deparment of Interior approval.
“Cape Wind did make the lease payment,” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokeswoman Tracy Moriarty told the News Service on Wednesday.
Project opponent Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound subsequently told the News Service the federal government in December had informed her group that Cape Wind made its annual $88,000 payment to keep their six-year-old lease intact.
“It’s clear from their representation to the court and the fact that they made the lease payment that they have not given up,” Parker said. “We have to continue to fight. We are continuing to pursue legal action to try to terminate the lease.”
With up to 130 turbine generators mounted on steel monopole foundations and turbines with a maximum blade height of 440 feet, the project has the potential to meet three quarters of the electricity needs of Cape Cod and the Islands.
While Cape Wind has not responded to requests for information about the status of the 15-year-old project, their attorney was bullish about its prospects in court last month.
“This project is going forward unequivically,” Cape Wind attorney Christopher Marraro told U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton during a Dec. 8 status conference in Washington D.C., according to a transcript of the proceedings obtained by the News Service.
In court, Marraro said Cape Wind had made its lease payments after the alliance’s attorney Benjamin Sharp alleged the project was in default on those payments.
The next day, Dec. 9, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking lease payment information.
Documents obtained from the federal government by the alliance on Dec. 13 and furnished to the News Service indicate a recent lease payment of $88,278, the exact amount that has been paid each of the prior six years to maintain the lease.
“They’re clearly continuing to maintain this asset in order to build at a future date or possibly to sell to another developer,” said Parker, whose group has long maintained Cape Wind is poorly located and more recently has supported wind energy projects in the deeper waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.
The lease area is comprised of approximately 46 square miles in Nantucket Sound, 25 square miles of which make up the project footprint area on Horseshoe Shoal, according to the federal government. The lease includes a five-year site assessment term and a 28-year operations term. In July 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved Cape Wind’s request for a two-year suspension of the operations term of its commercial lease.
Cape Wind for years was long billed as the likely first offshore wind farm in the nation. Last year, that designation went instead to Deepwater Wind’s 30-megawatt project off Block Island, Rhode Island, a project that has received investments from GE Energy Financial Services and the global bank Citi.
In July 2016, a three-judge federal Appeals Court panel reversed lower court decisions that had found regulators to be in compliance with environmental and endangered species laws in permitting Cape Wind.