The seemingly never-ending saga of Cape Wind continues to pack in the twists and turns. After years of debate, the massive offshore wind project near Cape Cod in Massachusetts — intended to be the US’ first offshore wind farm — was finally approved in 2010, and its funding was secured by a major purchase agreement with energy utility National Grid, which agreed to buy half its output.
But the project’s implacable opponents, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, weren’t taking that lying down. In September 2011, they went to Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court to argue that the deal between Cape Wind and National Grid was unconstitutional. The Alliance, along with other Cape Wind opponents like the Associated Industries of MA and the New England Power Generators Association, claimed that the deal unfairly restricted interstate commerce because National Grid didn’t undergo a competitive bidding process involving out-of-state providers. “The contract sets a risky precedent by allowing utilities to negotiate expensive power agreements outside of the competitive bidding process and to allocate the costs of those contracts unfairly to residential and commercial customers,” the Alliance said in September.
Well, the Court disagrees. On Wednesday, it upheld the power purchase deal, declaring that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities was right to approve it earlier in the year. The court said that the DPA’s review was “thorough” and dismissed the constitutional arguments.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound called the decision “a blow to ratepayers, businesses, and municipalities 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.”
It’s just the latest phase in the long-running battle between Cape Wind and the Alliance, which, as its name suggests, is concerned about the impact of the proposed wind farm on the wildlife and scenery of the area. At least, that’s the theory… in practice, some of the Alliance’s backing comes from fossil fuel executives, not least a certain oil heir you might have heard of named William Koch.
Formed in 2001, not long after Cape Wind was first proposed, the Alliance has been fighting the project through the courts and other means for over a decade. It looked like it might have succeeded in blocking the project in January 2010, when the National Park Service announced Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But that didn’t prevent US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar from approving the project in April 2010 or granting it a lease in October.
Of course, while this latest decision leaves half of Cape Wind’s funding secure, it still needs to find a buyer for the other half of its output. In October, it rather cheekily suggested that two local energy utilities, NStar and Northeast Utilities, should have to agree to buy the other half of the project’s output as a condition of their proposed merger. There’s also the small matter of Federal Aviation rules. In late October, the US Court of Appeals overturned a decision by the Federal Aviation Authority declaring Cape Wind safe for aircraft. No construction is likely to take place until that decision is reviewed.
Rav is a London-based freelance journalist passionate about climate change, development and technology. He has written for the Daily Express, Excite.co.uk and the Fly. He blogs at ravcasleygera.wordpress.com.