By: Owen Boss, Erin Smith
A taxpayer-funded New Bedford marine terminal — set to be the construction staging area for a controversial offshore wind farm — is $10 million over budget, according to state officials, raising concerns among fiscal watchdogs that the project’s costs will balloon out of control.
“This will be another $10 million sucked into the black hole of Cape Wind,” said Greg Sullivan, a former state inspector general now at the Pioneer Institute. “Homeowners have already been coerced into paying three times market rate per kilowatt hour to finance the project on top of hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies. Isn’t that enough?”
The South Coast Marine Commerce Terminal is scheduled to be finished by the end of the month, but officials at the state agency overseeing the facility won’t say when dredging work at the site will be complete.
The dredging will allow passage for larger boats needed to deliver the giant monopiles —the base of the wind turbines — for the Cape Wind project. Cape Wind is pushing the $2.6 billion plan to put 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
“We expect all construction and dredging associated with the terminal project, as well as all dredging being conducted in the federal channel, to be completed before any vessels are scheduled to arrive,” said Catherine Williams, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which oversees the terminal.
The construction budget for the terminal, which is inside New Bedford Harbor and protected by the hurricane barrier, had originally been set at $103 million. That figure recently climbed to $113 million under rising costs for environmental contamination cleanup, as well as blasting and dredging, according to Williams, who did not respond to questions about whether construction costs will continue to rise.
“Our rule of thumb is whatever they say it is going to cost, you have to multiply that by three,” said Barbara Anderson, head of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “The government screwed this up and now they want us to be chipping in for it? That’s not right.”
Williams said funding for the cost overruns will come from coffers at MassDOT and the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
In September, Gov. Deval Patrick announced Cape Wind had agreed to a two-year lease agreement to rent the 28-acre facility for $4.5 million. At the time, officials touted the terminal as the first of its kind in North America, “specifically designed to handle the heavy loads associated with the staging of offshore wind projects.”
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said, “Cape Wind is confident that the port facility in New Bedford and the channel to access it will be ready in time for our use in early 2015.”
Cape Wind has been pushing to build its offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound for the past decade against fierce opposition and legal battles from Cape Cod homeowners and business leaders.
Cape Wind has received a conditional loan guarantee commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy for $150 million for the project, according to Rodgers. He said Cape Wind is also eligible to receive federal tax credits.