Cape Cod Times: “The final blow for Cape Wind”
Dec 1, 2017 – Updated at 6:32 AM –
The proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm is no longer.
After more than 16 years, tens of millions of dollars spent and seemingly endless, at times deafening, debate, the announcement Friday that Cape Wind is officially dead came quietly by email.
“Cape Wind has confirmed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that it has ceased development of its proposed offshore wind farm project in Nantucket Sound and has filed to terminate its offshore wind development lease that was issued in 2010,” according to a statement sent to the Times by Cape Wind vice president Dennis Duffy.
The project first proposed in 2001 and reviewed by dozens of local, state and federal agencies succumbed not under the weight of pressure from opponents or failure to clear any particular regulatory hurdle but rather from a combination of time and financial constraints that tightened and loosened over many years before constricting for good when utilities killed the contracts to buy power from the project’s 130 wind turbines in early January 2015.
Even after losing customers for its power, however, Cape Wind Associates LLC continued to shell out $88,278 to pay for a lease secured in 2010 covering 46 square miles of federal waters in the middle of the sound. That amount was a drop in the bucket compared to the more than $100 million the company had already spent on the project but whether it was what finally tipped the scales is unclear.
“During Cape Wind’s development period we successfully developed over a billion dollars of renewable solar and biomass energy projects and, although we were unable to bring Cape Wind to fruition, we are proud of the catalyzing and pioneering effort we devoted to bringing offshore wind to the United States,” James Gordon, president of Cape Wind and its parent company, Energy Management Inc., said in the statement forwarded by Duffy. “Our successful resolution of the multiple appeals established important legal precedents that will hopefully make it easier for other offshore wind developers that follow.”
Beyond the single-page statement and a copy of the notice announcing they had abandoned the project and surrendered their commercial lease, Cape Wind officials remained mum on why they were giving up on their plans at this time.
Regardless of the reason, however, opponents greeted the news with praise and a mixture of disbelief.
“It’s fantastic news for us and all the groups that have been fighting this project for years,” said Audra Parker, president of the project’s primary opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “Clearly it’s a major accomplishment.”
The alliance plans to move forward with the coalition of groups it has developed to make sure that “never again is a private developer given the rights to land that belongs to all of us,” Parker wrote in a follow-up statement.
“This is encouraging, but there’s still work to be done to protect the federal waters of Nantucket Sound,” said Charles McLaughlin, assistant town attorney for Barnstable.
After years of opponents and supporters alternately declaring victory, McLaughlin and Parker both questioned whether Cape Wind may have sold its rights to the lease.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not respond to a request to confirm the status of the lease. Under the terms of an application to relinquish a lease, Cape Wind will be billed for any outstanding payment due and must meet any decommissioning obligations. Currently, the company still has a meteorological tower in the middle of the sound that became operational in 2003.
After more than a decade of successes and defeats, including political intrigue that reached all the way from the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport to the halls of power on Beacon Hill and in Washington, D.C., the project was dealt a major setback in January 2015, when Eversource and National Grid ended the contracts to buy power from the turbines, and again in 2016 when the state Energy Facilities Siting Board declined to extend permits for the project that had originally been issued in 2009.
Opponents, including fishermen, Native American tribes, local officials and private citizens, rich and poor, had long argued the project was a danger to navigation, marine life, birds and the local economy.
“That’s awesome news,” said David Weeden, deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
The tribe is more supportive of projects outside of Nantucket Sound, Weeden said, echoing a common refrain among opponents who said the sound was the wrong place for the project.
“It will be so nice to look to the first light again, without the worry of the threat of it not being there for our children and future generations to celebrate; as it has been since time in memorial,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah.)
The Martha’s Vineyard tribe was opposed to Cape Wind for practical reasons but the adverse effects on the tribal community went even further, including to the aquatic environment, traditional practices and cultural properties, and to “irreplaceable underwater archeological sites,” she said.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that this has occurred and brought to a close what many of us thought was a hazard to air navigation and bad siting for that project,” said Barnstable Municipal Airport Manager Roland “Bud” Breault.
Environmentalists and proponents of the project countered that Cape Wind was necessary to help combat climate change, would create jobs and kick-start the country’s offshore wind energy industry.
The project was touted as the likely first offshore wind farm in the U.S., but in 2016 that distinction went to Deepwater Wind, which built a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project off Block Island in Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind is one of three offshore wind energy companies seeking to build additional projects south of the Islands, plans which have garnered far less opposition because of their location farther out to sea.
“While groundbreaking wind power didn’t come to fruition with the Cape Wind project, it’s important to recognize that our region will still be the nation’s leading area for offshore wind with an estimated 25 (percent) of our country’s projected capacity coming from an alternate site in our district,” said U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., a supporter of Cape Wind. “Continued development in renewable energies will only bolster our local economy and create well-paying jobs.”
Another supporter, Massachusetts Audubon Society director of public policy and government relations Jack Clarke, said the project’s demise was no surprise.
“Over 50 lawsuits were filed by opponents, led by Bill Koch,” he said about the Osterville property owner and primary financial backer of the alliance. “Cape Wind prevailed on all of them and had all their permits. They just couldn’t financially keep it going.”
Wind turbine technology had also changed considerably in since 2001, Clarke said, adding that much larger turbines are now the norm compared to the 3.6-megawatt turbines Cape Wind sought to use.
But the long and bitter battle over Cape Wind helped make the current pro-offshore wind climate possible, he said.
“This was the game changer,” Clarke said.
Cape Wind’s struggles, in part, inspired Congress to pass an energy policy act in 2005 for leasing offshore areas of the ocean for wind energy, Clarke said.
“Jim Gordon was a pioneer in pushing the U.S. to establish offshore wind power,” Clarke said. “The lesson learned is that you have to have a locked-in purchaser for the electricity.”
Public policy has to drive these projects, Clarke said, pointing to the state’s energy diversity act enacted last year that requires 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind be purchased by utilities.
“They (electric utilities) are now working with offshore wind companies to produce that wind power,” Clarke said. “Companies are investing in offshore wind because state policy required it. That brings in capital to drive the projects and Jim Gordon didn’t have that.”
Most of Cape Cod’s lawmakers, however, were opposed to Cape Wind and sought to ensure it couldn’t benefit from the new requirements placed on utilities.
Barnstable Town Councilor James Crocker said Cape Wind never convinced him that the turbines would withstand serious weather and the test of time.
Crocker recalled talking with a crane operator who said maintenance work on land-based turbines was their biggest money maker, raising concerns about how the Cape Wind turbines would fare.
Although he was against Cape Wind, Crocker said he would be open to other ideas that could help lower utility costs for the Cape.
“Things can get better,” he said.
“Even when I was a town councilor, we came out against (Cape Wind),” said state Rep. William Crocker, R-Centerville. “It looks like it’s finally resolved.”
The town had a number of concerns with the project, including how boats would navigate the waters near the project in the fog, he said.
But what first got Crocker against the project was its potential to mar the view of the sound.
Early on in the project’s history, opponents took the former radio man down to the beach in Cotuit and pointed out where the wind turbines would be located.
“People come to Cape Cod for the beaches, the ocean and the vistas,” he said. “They didn’t come for windmills.”
— Staff writers Christine Legere, Ethan Genter, Geoff Spillane and Doug Fraser contributed to this report
Reprinted via Cape Cod Times, which is not affiliated with the Alliance.