Editorial: A step toward reasonably priced, actually green power

Audra Parker, president and chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said this week that a Massachusetts decision to allow state utilities to buy wind power from out of state suppliers at attractive prices means that the threat of industrialization of Horseshoe Shoal is over.

About the state’s decision, on September 23, she wrote, “The announcement today that Massachusetts utilities will be purchasing green wind power from New Hampshire and Maine facilities at an average price of less than eight cents per kilowatt hour is the death knell for Cape Wind. Support for Cape Wind’s massive price tag to ratepayers was based on the idea that we needed to pay more — much more — for green energy. Today’s competitively bid deals prove otherwise. Cape Wind’s contracts with National Grid and NSTAR call for a minimum price of 19 cents per kwh, rising 3.5 percent per year to reach over 30 cents per kwh in the final year. No utility, business or consumer, should be forced to underwrite a private developer at more than three times the cost of readily available green energy from other sources.”

Ms. Parker, the tireless leader of the Cape Cod based opposition to Cape Wind, may be right, and as this page has argued, the price for Cape Wind power is certainly too high, in both dollar and environmental terms. But, the decade-long effort to create the turbine farm over the wild shoals is likely to go a few rounds more, in a state, and in a federal political climate, where green energy policy is a tortured political animal that is designed to maul ratepayers.

Still, as Ms. Parker writes, “With today’s contract announcement, the residents of Cape Cod and the Islands, as well as ratepayers across the state, have a right to ask why they are being forced to needlessly pay billions of dollars extra in electricity costs. The 12 year old project is outdated, overpriced and has been beaten fairly and squarely in the marketplace by cheaper wind power. It is time to pull the plug.”

The state’s Green Communities Act has increased the cost of electricity to Massachusetts residential and business ratepayers. The political value of electricity produced from the wind and the sun, as Massachusetts legislators and many of their supporters measure it, is greater than the economic value of green solutions to our energy demand that don’t raise the cost of power and may actually reduce it.

Massachusetts residents will pay billions in higher electricity costs, because of the state’s crazily generous subsidies for the creation of large-scale, non-fossil fuel generation and the regulations supporting overpriced electricity generated by solar, but especially wind. And state law requires electricity distribution companies to increase the amount of expensive renewable energy they must buy in long-term contracts. And this, when natural gas, used increasingly to fuel generating plants, is abundant, relatively cheap, and clean. State green power rules don’t allow Massachusetts generators to satisfy the green power requirement from certain out-of-state sources, notably hydro, so cheaper — still green — power is off-limits to Massachusetts electricity companies. And Massachusetts law demands that power suppliers double the required amount of net-metering juice they accept from customers and credit at retail rather than wholesale prices — an indirect hit on ratepayers.

The contracts that inspired Ms. Parker’s touchdown dance run between Massachusetts utilities and six wind energy projects to be built in Maine and New Hampshire by First Wind, Iberdrola Renewables and Exergy Development Group.

The deals involve a supply of 565 megawatts of wind energy for a bit less than eight cents a kilowatt hour. The deal resulted from a competitive bid process, and the price compares delightfully with the 20 kw Cape Wind deals utilities were pressured by the state to conclude.

The lesson is that there is good, green, reasonably priced power to be had from non-polluting generators, and Massachusetts suppliers ought to allowed to go wherever they need to go to buy it. State residents will benefit financially without sacrificing Massachusetts’s clean, wild places.