Senators file renewable energy contract bidding bill

Republican legislative leaders are thrusting into the General Court’s arena an issue that is currently being debated before the state’s highest court. Citing the wind energy purchase contract between Cape Wind and National Grid, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and House Minority Leader Brad Jones announced Monday the filing of legislation requiring public utilities to seek competitive bids for long-term renewable energy contracts.

While the Patrick administration, National Grid executives, and environmental officials have hailed the contract as a milestone in the effort to launch the project and boost offshore wind production and renewable energy, contract critics say consumers will be stuck under the arrangement paying above-market electricity prices.

According to Jones and Tarr, the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act requires utilities to solicit long-term renewable energy contracts twice in a five-year period but current law does not require the solicitation procedure to be competitive. The GOP leaders say below-market prices featured in an NSTAR contract with land-based wind projects show the benefit of competitive solicitations.

Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind, said she supports the bill. Parker proposed an initiative petition seeking to force competitive bidding but Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to certify it. Parker said it was not certified because it would have retroactively affected the contract between Cape Wind and National Grid; Coakley’s office ruled that the petition “impermissibly takes private property without compensation.”

A Jones aide said his bill will require three bids on long-term renewable energy contracts with the award going to the bidder providing the proposal that is least costly to ratepayers.

Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said Massachusetts doesn’t have much land-based wind energy and its solar energy is more expensive than offshore wind. He said Cape Wind would create up to 1,000 jobs in Massachusetts and noted problems transmitting renewable energy into the state from out of state. “This bill would essentially require Massachusetts utilities to sign contracts with out-of-state projects,” Rodgers said. “It would send our money and all the jobs out of state and we wouldn’t even get reliable power delivery.”