Cape Wind boosters take aim at opponents’ fossil fuel ties

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012

Proponents of the long-embattled Cape Wind project launched a new campaign this week accusing opponents of the proposed offshore wind farm of being committed to protecting a fossil fuel magnate and not representing the true views of Massachusetts residents.

The “Cape Wind Now” campaign is a project of the Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental and labor organizations, and it aims to serve as a counterpoint to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which is led by the energy magnate William Koch and has vociferously opposed the offshore wind farm for more than a decade.

The project backers’ effort so far consists primarily of a website accusing “dirty energy billionaire” Koch of leading the charge against Cape Wind and compiling articles tying Koch to the alliance and other Cape Wind opponents. CLF Massachusetts Vice President Sue Reid said the group also would organize grass-roots supporters of Cape Wind but did not have any specific events planned in the near future.

Koch is brother to the industrialists Charles and David Koch, who fund conservative organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, that have been highly active in this year’s presidential and congressional elections.

While Cape Wind is not formally involved in the CLF-led effort, the company shares its frustration with the alliance’s ceaseless efforts to block the project. In an interview with Greenwire yesterday, Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon said Koch was backing the alliance to protect his interest in Oxbow Energy, a major coal and petroleum coke company, to prevent competition from offshore wind.

“From an industry standpoint, it is a disruptive technology that really has a chance to turn the market upside-down,” Gordon said. “And that’s why Bill Koch … is the chairman of this group and has for years been funding this faux environmental group that has been discredited time and time again because of their misleading, untruthful claims about the project.”

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound says its interests go beyond one person’s agenda.

“We have 5,000 donors and 30,000 supporters who will continue to fight this expensive and ill sited project until we win,” alliance President Audra Parker said in a statement. “The vast majority of our donors are men and women worried about Cape Wind sending utility bills through the roof or destroying public land for private profit.”

The alliance raised about $11.5 million between 2006 and 2010, according to its 2010 tax forms, the most recent year available. The group does not divulge the identity of its donors. Koch is listed as a co-chairman of the group

Gordon said the project would lower customers’ utility bills. Although he acknowledged that the power purchase agreements the company has signed with utilities to purchase its power are higher than average for the region, he said Cape Wind’s entry into power markets would drive overall prices down because the company would always be bidding into those markets at zero cents per kilowatt-hour because wind has no fuel costs

“The question is would you be willing to pay a premium for 2 percent of something if it lowers the price on the remaining 98 percent of something, and that’s exactly what happens,” he said. “What Cape Wind does is by … pushing down the price curve, we actually reduce the clearing price for every hour that Cape Wind operates. And that’s because we displace a higher-price, more heavily polluting fossil unit.”

Cape Wind began site surveys earlier this summer and aims to begin constructing its 130-turbine project by the end of next year. The project has received all its necessary state and federal permits and has contracts to sell more than three-quarters of its power, but it faces pending lawsuits brought by the alliance and still has yet to ink a financing deal.

Gordon was in Washington, D.C., this week lobbying for an extension of key wind industry tax breaks that are scheduled to expire this year, as well as for several meetings related to Cape Wind’s efforts to attract financing. He would not discuss details of the meetings.

Cape Wind’s power purchase contracts include clauses that would account for the potential loss of the industry tax breaks, but Gordon said it would be “difficult” to get the projects off the ground without the credit.

When it returns after the election, Congress is expected to decide whether to extend the credits — a 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit and a 30 percent investment tax credit. Wind developers have the option of claiming either — but not both — of those credits, with the PTC typically favored by utility-scale, land-based wind farms and the ITC seen as more favorable for offshore projects. Gordon would not say which Cape Wind would claim if the credits are renewed.

In addition to the tax credits, Cape Wind had at one point been hoping for a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. That was shelved in 2011, although officials said at the time that the loan guarantee was not terminated altogether. Gordon would not comment when asked whether the company was still hoping for a loan guarantee.

While the 11 years of regulatory reviews facing the project have complicated efforts to secure financing, Gordon said he is confident the end is in sight. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, working with other plaintiffs, has two pending lawsuits in federal court — one challenging a Federal Aviation Administration approval and the other bringing a variety of claims under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws. Gordon said he was confident those suits would not interfere with efforts to secure financing.

“There have been a number of energy projects financed in this country where there’s been a frivolous appeal still outstanding,” he said.