New Bedford in line as staging area for Cape Wind

New Bedford in line as staging area for Cape Wind

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State House News Service

Gov. Deval Patrick is preparing to announce that a portion of New Bedford’s waterfront has been selected by Cape Wind as the staging area for its wind energy project at Horseshoe Shoals. The Patrick administration says preparation for the project will cost taxpayers about $35 million but also lead to hundreds of construction jobs for the coastal city and provide a platform for other offshore developments.

Although much of the 20-acre parcel is publicly owned, New Bedford officials are still in talks with private landowners who control portions of the property which would also serve other commercial shipping purposes, expand New Bedford’s port capacity, and include the construction of an area to lay down large wind turbine components, according to state officials.

“There is still work to be done,” said Robert Keough, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “The exact footprint of the facility has not been determined. Most of the land in that area is already under public ownership, either state or city … We don’t anticipate any real problem on that front.”

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles said New Bedford beat out Rhode Island’s Quonset Point to host the facility. “It’s a big win,” Bowles said.

Bowles said the site’s construction would create between 200 and 300 jobs and estimated that work associated with Cape Wind would create another 600 to 1,000 jobs. In addition, Bowles said, the site could be used for other offshore wind projects.

Cape Wind opponents blasted the site as a drain on taxpayers. The project has been met with skepticism and hostility by critics who say it is poorly sited and will drive up energy costs for ratepayers. Gov. Patrick’s three opponents for the Corner Office have all raised questions about the project, and Republican candidate Charles Baker has said he will work against the project if he takes office.

“The New Bedford site selection is further evidence that Cape Wind is rapidly evolving into another Big Dig — a money pit with no end in sight to taxpayer bailouts,” said Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

“The development and rehabilitation of the New Bedford site would cost taxpayers upwards of $35 million … Governor Patrick and Secretary Bowles need to come clean with the public. The New Bedford site selection is yet another case where there are now more questions than answers, many of them as simple as who owns the property and why it needs to be taken by eminent domain. Announcing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for a site the state does not yet own is nothing more than an election season stunt. It is time for the Governor and Secretary Bowles to stop covering up for a project that simply needs to be terminated.”

Officials expect to “tap a range of public resources,” including state, city, and federal taxpayer dollars, Keough said. Cape Wind, he said, will be “paying commercial rates for use of the facility.” The potential use of eminent domain remains “to be seen,” he said.

Keough said the New Bedford site, South Terminal, was chosen as a result of a state Clean Energy Center study that found it was “most suitable for offshore wind development.” According to Keough, the site is “protected from hurricanes” and “has no obstructions” that would impede navigation for large equipment and has access to land-based transportation.

Bowles said the state would accompany the announcement with the release of a report that analyzed ports to determine which would make the best site for the facility. Bowles said the facility, as well as Cape Wind itself, would keep Massachusetts competitive as state’s explore offshore wind options.

He noted that New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie — Bowles described him as “conservative” —recently signed a deal to promote offshore wind, and he said the governors of Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, and Virginia are “vying intensely on a bipartisan basis to be number two on offshore wind.” He also noted that a “conservative” government in Great Britain had recently signed off on off “100 Cape Wind-sized projects.”

The announcement of the deal also comes the same week Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon donated $5,000 to the state Democratic Party, and First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor donated $5,000 to the party and $500 to Patrick.

Bowles rejected the notion of a conflict of interest, saying the New Bedford facility was “the subject of two years of work” and that customers could use the facility “on a completely commercial basis.” He noted the “alternative of jobs going to Rhode Island.”

“People will read into things whatever they want to read into them during the electoral season,” he said.One of the parcels the state hopes to incorporate into the staging site is an 11.5-acre tract owned by the Shuster Corporation, which is still ironing out the details of a land transfer. According to an official representing the company, details include whether the company can remain on the site, or, if it must move, whether it will be compensated at market rate. The company’s facility occupies about 2.5 acres.

“Shuster is excited about the possibility of revitalizing the New Bedford waterfront and looks forward to working with the City and the Commonwealth as the project develops,” according to a statement issued by the company.

Patrick is preparing to make the announcement alongside Bowles and Congressman Barney Frank, who is locked in a tough reelection fight and has appeared with Patrick several times in the past week for job creation and fishing industry-related announcements.

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