Cape Wind chief calls state energy legislation “promising”

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BOSTON, FEB. 25, 2015….. An effort is underway to create a coalition to help promote off-shore wind power and energy legislation on Beacon Hill, the president of a stalled wind farm development in Nantucket Sound said Wednesday.

Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, pointed to the “robust” solar industry coming together despite “very disparate” interests, speaking to lawmakers, lobbying, and “telling their story.”

A coalition is also needed to ensure a revenue stream and to get the wind industry off the ground, he added.

Matthew Morrissey, a former economic development and wind energy official for New Bedford, is heading up the effort and said the trade group, called Offshore Wind Massachusetts, is in the early stages of forming and will be involved with Beacon Hill legislation.

“That has to happen for this industry to really take off,” Gordon said.

During an appearance on a panel Wednesday as part of a two-day conference on offshore wind power at the Fairmont Copley Hotel, Gordon called an energy bill proposed by Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset) “very promising.” Under the bill, utilities would be required to buy 1,500 megawatts of competitively bid offshore wind power and 1,200 megawatts of competitively bid hydropower.

Gordon said benefits of offshore wind to customers would become apparent over time.

“That’s a story that a lot of political leaders don’t understand because they see the first price of offshore wind, and the first projects are going to be the most expensive,” he said. “Just like the solar projects were, but we have to educate policymakers into saying that look, once we get economies of scale going, once we start building a lot of these, the prices will come down just like they’ve come down in every other energy technology. But we have to start somewhere.”

Opponents of Cape Wind have argued the project’s location should become a national marine sanctuary protected from development and that the wind farm would ruin views.

“Cape Wind’s time has come and gone,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, adding that alternatives to ocean development have surfaced.

Parker said the decision of two major utilities in January to terminate their power purchase agreements for Cape Wind, which threw the project’s future into question, left it without “customers for their high-priced power.”

Speaking to reporters after the panel, Gordon declined to go into detail about the utilities’ decision and next steps.

Asked by a reporter if he was still working with the utilities, Gordon said, “We’re examining our options and I can’t really get into any more at this point. I’m sorry, I just can’t do it.”

The two utilities, Northeast Utilities, which is now known as Eversource, and National Grid announced earlier in February that together with Spectra Energy they will be part of an effort to increase the natural gas supply to New England.

Gordon said the utilities have “my fate in their hands” and they recently announced competing projects like the effort to bring in a large gas supply and Canadian hydropower. “We need diversity in New England but we shouldn’t allow transmission investments [to] dictate what our generation solution is, particularly if we have this enormous off-shore wind resource right off our coast,” Gordon said.

Gordon was on the panel with Ron Gerwatowski, a former senior vice president for U.S. regulation and pricing at National Grid, who was tapped by Gov. Charlie Baker as assistant secretary for energy.

Gerwatowski told the News Service that the state is not involved in disagreement between the utilities and Cape Wind, calling it a “contracting dispute.” “They’ve got to resolve it however they’re going to resolve it,” he said after the panel.

Expanding renewable energy and expanding gas capacity are both important efforts, he added.

During the panel, Gerwatowski said officials are seeking to work closely with other states and pointed to a recent report from Clean Energy Group and Navigant. While saying he didn’t agree with all of the comments in the report, he noted the executive summary panned the “go-it-alone single state policy approach.” The report also said offshore wind can become “cost-competitive and reach its true potential if the states in the northeast region act together to help create a market for technology.”

“I think it’s an interesting observation, because obviously any large scale projects that you do on the renewable side, if one state does try to take it on and it’s above market, it has a significant impact on customers,” Gerwatowski said.

Baker has expressed interest in a regional approach to energy policy, and on Wednesday, the administration announced that the Bay State is joining with Connecticut and Rhode Island and electric distribution companies and issuing a request for proposals for new clean energy resources. State agencies will also start to examine opportunities for new natural gas contracts.

The regional approach was hailed by energy policy groups and stakeholders. “We see it as a real opportunity to have states coordinating together to take advantage of clean energy resources,” said Janet Gail Besser, vice president of policy and government affairs at the New England Clean Energy Council.

A group dubbed the Green Line Infrastructure Alliance — which includes National Grid and Anbaric, a transmission project developer — said the move will help “update and modernize transmission lines that will unlock New England’s abundant supply of clean energy.”

In its own statement, Eversource said, “Clearly, we’re in need of new infrastructure to improve reliability and reduce costs. That’s why we have partnered with other leading energy companies on several different solutions that will unlock clean energy resources, such as Canadian Hydro and northern wind power, and increase the capacity of existing natural gas pipelines to achieve a balanced approach.”

As for Haddad’s legislation, Gerwatowski, the assistant secretary, said, “We will have a view on that. At this point, we have to have discussions on this before we’re making any pronouncements about which path is the right one to go down.”

Haddad said the bill filed by Gov. Deval Patrick that surfaced last year was heavily weighted towards Canadian hydropower, and offshore wind in Massachusetts presents opportunities for local jobs.

“The important thing is businesses are talking about it, ordinary ratepayers are talking about the costs of power,” she said. “I think that will push the envelope.”

Cape Wind appears to be “struggling,” she said, despite Gordon pouring “heart and soul and money into it.”

“I feel very badly that Jim Gordon wasn’t able to get his project funded or ready to go,” she said. “It’s location, location, location.”

Morrissey, the coalition official, called Cape Wind a “pioneering project” and said it was “hard to say” if it’s done.

Three companies, aside from Cape Wind, are now operating in competitive offshore wind lease areas off the Massachusetts coast, “where people can’t see them,” Morrissey said.

“Cape Wind has helped the Commonwealth get to this place,” he said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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