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Congress Investigates Cape Wind

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Consumer resistance and pesky Congressional oversight are roiling President Obama’s green agenda. Cape Wind, the 25 square mile wind turbine farm slated for Nantucket Sound, is the latest venture to attract a House inquiry, spearheaded in this instance by two Republican Representatives, Darrell Issa and John Mica. The chairs of the House Oversight and Transportation Committees, respectively, have launched a probe into the FAA’a 2010 approval of the mega-project, which is likely to interfere with navigational radar and could prove a hazard to the region’s low-flying aircraft.
Cape Wind opponents have uncovered correspondence suggesting that political pressure may have trumped safety concerns in granting the go-ahead, which has since been overturned by an appeals court. Several emails among FAA employees reviewing the vast undertaking acknowledged its political importance; one message sent by an FAA manager said “It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”
The investigation was encouraged by Cliff Stearns, the Florida Representative who led Congress’ investigation into the Solyndra bankruptcy. He accuses the White House of pushing forward green projects without “conducting due diligence that could call into question their viability or value.” The White House has denied wrong-doing and has accused Stearns of wasting taxpayer money.
But backing numerous green energy projects that have failed – including Solyndra — is certainly a greater waste of taxpayer funds. Consumers – and voters – have a right to know the costs of Mr. Obama’s green vision. While the president presses forward with his goal that 80 percent of our power derive from renewables by 2035, consumers are figuring out that the plan could boost electricity costs by 36 to 60 percent, according to a Heritage Foundation study. While wind and sun energy appeal to those who imagine such sources “free” and non-polluting, the reality is quite different.
In the case of Cape Wind, which would be the first offshore wind farm built in the U.S., the cost of power generated will be high and there’s every indication that the environment will be damaged. Though the developer has not been able to sell the project’s entire future output, the contracts in place will ladle an extra $3 to $4 billion onto Massachusetts ratepayers. The per kilowatt hour cost of electricity will run from 20.7 cents to nearly 35 cents over the life of the 15-year contract. Today, power costs about 8 cents, and declining natural gas prices should keep it in that ballpark. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, in explaining its approval, said “The power from this contract is expensive in light of today’s energy prices. It may also be expensive in light of forecasted energy prices…” To put it mildly.
Such a tax on local businesses and families was approved through the passage of the 2008 Green Communities Act, a Massachusetts law described by some as the “Cape Wind Sweetheart Deal Act,” which permits utilities to pass the high cost of renewable energy onto customers – but only for projects built in Massachusetts or nearby offshore.
When the project got rolling – a long 11 years ago – public support for the wind farm was high—in 2006 some 81 percent of state voters favored construction. More recently, support has dropped as people have learned the potential impact on their electricity bill.
Local businesses are especially alarmed. An organization called Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) say that long-term electricity contracts “negotiated in back rooms, have left consumers and employers stuck with a $3 billion bill for power from Cape Wind.” They charge that three-quarters of all the renewables contracts have not been negotiated through competitive bidding “at a cost some three times that of market-based renewable power.” They point out that electricity prices in the state are already among the highest in the nation and say the expensive rates are one reason Massachusetts has fallen to 28 in CNBC’s ranking of the best states for business.
Ironically, the Obama administration has waffled on the Cape Wind project. The Interior Department approved the multi-billion venture in 2010, but then last year the Department of Energy denied a $2 billion loan guarantee for the project, despite Obama’s commitment to a “major new initiative to accelerate the development of clean, offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast.”
Cape Wind’s critics ascribed the unusual turndown to poor economics, concerns that the 130 turbines would slaughter migrating birds or ruin important fisheries, sensitivity to Native American opposition or to other problems. Political junkies, though, said Mr. Obama was repaying a debt. The late Ted Kennedy was an early and critical supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries. The famed environmentalist was also an adamant opponent of Cape Wind. Why? Because the forty-story turbines were literally in his Hyannis back yard.

Liz Peek is a seasonal Nantucketer with extensive Wall Street experience.  Learn more about her here.  This piece was taken from her blog of July 19, 2012.

Comments

Liz-- thanks for this piece.  What people don't realize is that the 130+ turbines Cape Wind is proposing for Nantucket Sound are not those beautiful, aesthetic wind turbines one sees pictures of--even the picture above only has 13 of them.  Imagine that installation multiplied by 10--it's an industrial site, right in the middle of a beautiful, unspoiled, heavily navigated stretch of water.

Ms Peek,

I see that your editorial was first published on your blog on July 19th, about a month before the FAA released its second ruling on the Cape Wind project. This reposting however comes more than a month after the release of the report which found "that the proposed construction of the 130 wind turbines, individually and as a group, has no effect on aeronautical operations.’’ Here's a link: http://tinyurl.com/August2012FAAdecision

"There is every indication the environment will be damaged"? To which indications are you referring? Certainly not to the reports produced by US Army Corps of Engineers, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, US Coast Guard, Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts DEP—Division of Wetlands and Waterways or Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management all of whom have reviewed and permitted the project. So now we're left with perhaps "some indications" though you cite none. And you completely neglect the ecological benefit of producing electricity without carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide or particulate material. Also, no strip mining, drilling or fracking so as we begin to satisfy more of electricity demand with wind energy lots and lots of land will protected. And you can bet we'll never fight a war over wind. None of that happens in the island's back yard, your part-time back yard, but trust me when I say it still matters.

You noted that 81% of Massachusetts residents polled supported the Cape Wind project in 2006 and claim that support has dwindled but you neglected to give us stats. I found some. A September, 2010 poll found 69% of Massachusetts residents support the project while only 20% oppose it. Here's a link to the whole poll http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2010/specials/governor_race_poll/

The power will be expensive. Very expensive. Renewable energy will become less expensive when it's produced in larger amounts by larger scale projects but for now it's an issue detractors can point to confidently and you don't have to exaggerate. I found the quote you posted and chose not finish. It doesn't make your point quite as well when we see the whole sentence but I know care about one's "right to know" the facts so here it is: “It may also be expensive in light of forecasted energy prices – although less than its critics suggest. There are opportunities to purchase renewable energy less expensively. However, it is absolutely clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable source.”

I hope you take the time to reply. When facts come to light we all win.

Stephen Maury

Ms Peek,

You've labeled the Cape Wind project as part of Obama's green agenda but you forgot to mention that you were once president of the National Association of Petroleum Investment Analysts. Would it be safe to say that you have a black agenda?