Cape Wind reverses, drops appeal

Source: By Ethan Genter, Cape Cod Times • Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2016

BOSTON — In what might be the most definitive sign that Cape Wind officials have given up on the long-running and seemingly unattainable dream of building a wind farm in Nantucket Sound, the company has moved to dismiss its appeal seeking to extend state permits to connect the project to the electric grid.

Cape Wind Associates’ attorneys were expected to deliver briefs Thursday arguing why the state Energy Facilities Siting Board should extend permits to build a transmission line from the proposed 130-turbine wind farm to land, said Charles McLaughlin, assistant town attorney for Barnstable. Instead, he received a call from a Cape Wind representative saying that the company would be withdrawing its appeal, McLaughlin said.

“We were very surprised” especially with the fervor with which Cape Wind has pursued the project, he said.

Cape Wind has fought off more than a dozen lawsuits since the company first announced its plans in 2001.

The nine state and local permits, bundled as a so-called super permit, were granted to the offshore wind energy developer in 2009 and were set to expire May 1, 2015, unless work on the transmission line had begun. A month before the May 2015 deadline, Cape Wind filed a request to extend the permits to May 2017. The energy facilities siting board, which is responsible for ensuring the state has a reliable energy source with minimal impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost, granted an interim extension until it could decide on the request.

In April, the siting board unanimously voted to deny the company’s request to extend the permits. Cape Wind filed an extremely detailed appeal with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that indicated it planned to continue the fight, McLaughlin said.

But the company does not have a customer to buy power generated by the turbines after utility giants Eversource and National Grid canceled contracts with the developer in 2015, and without the state permits there is no way to get the power to the grid even if those contracts were still in place. The company has already spent more than $100 million on the project, which was expected to cost at least $2.6 billion total.

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon and Vice President Dennis Duffy did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

Opponents have continuously sought to block the project, arguing that it would be bad for wildlife, costly to ratepayers and affect fishermen as well as the region’s economy. Supporters said it would help jump start the offshore wind energy industry, provide a green source of power and be an overall benefit to the environment and the economy.

The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. was installed this summer off Block Island in Rhode Island, beating out its neighbor to the east. The pilot project of five turbines is expected to start generating power in November.

Cape Wind could apply for the required permits again, but to do so would be a long and arduous process, McLaughlin said.

“For all intents and purposes, this is it,” for the state case, McLaughlin said. The project still has a federal lease near Horseshoe Shoal in the Sound, but that could also be in danger without any local permits in place.

With the state battle apparently over, opponents are now setting their sights on legal wranglings in federal court.

“It’s great news,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind’s leading opponents. “We can focus solely on Washington and getting the long-term lease terminated.”

The lease runs until 2041 and even though Cape Wind has been dealt some significant blows over the past few years, the alliance will continue to fight the lease, she said.

“Much can change in two decades, as we’ve seen in this fight,” Parker said.

— Follow Ethan Genter on Twitter: @EthanGenterCCT.