Tags Posts tagged with "Cape Wind"

Cape Wind

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This winter found many of us trying to get inside from the cold, where the comforts of modern life awaited — warmth, lights, electronics, appliances, and a hot meal.

You may not have realized it, but the infrastructure that delivers energy to us, upon which all these comforts depend, was under great stress.

Massachusetts does not produce coal, oil or natural gas. We are at the end of the energy pipeline for all those fuels.  Over the past 30 years our region has shifted more of our energy use away from coal and oil toward natural gas.

Yet our demand for gas, both in the heating and electric sectors, has been increasing much faster than the supply of gas that pipelines deliver us. During this cold winter, we saw spot market prices for natural gas and electricity rise significantly. This not only made electricity generated by gas more expensive, it also meant that as the heating sector used more gas there was less available for power plants. There were times in this past, brutally cold January when our region’s electric grid manager, ISO-New England, needed to run old, inefficient and dirty “peaker” power units just to keep the lights on.

These cold periods that stress our energy infrastructure also tend to be quite windy. We have all seen the meteorologists on TV telling us about the “wind chill effect,” and winter is our windiest season. Massachusetts is not at the end of the wind pipeline. In elevated locations, along the shore and particularly offshore, we have our own vast supply of clean wind energy waiting to be tapped.

Over the past 13 years, our company has been developing America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, on Horseshoe Shoal. During that time Cape Wind would have provided significant energy, economic, and environmental benefits to Massachusetts and beyond.

During a severe three-day cold snap in January, 2004, ISO New England contemplated the need for rolling blackouts because of the shortage of natural gas for electricity generation.  The U.S. Department of Energy studied the region’s energy vulnerability and noted that during the entire three-day period winds over Nantucket Sound were strong and, had it been built, Cape Wind would have been operating at full capacity during most of that period and provided significant electric reliability benefits.

This past winter, Cape Wind would have eased the stress on the natural gas and electric spot markets and reduced price spikes. Had Cape Wind been operating, National Grid and NSTAR would have also saved millions of dollars this winter under their contracts with us compared with relying upon spot markets. Over time, Cape Wind’s impact in reducing electricity spot market prices will be significant, more than $7 billion over the life of the project, according to a study by Charles River Associates. Wind power consistently reduces electric spot market prices wherever it has already been installed on a significant scale, such as in Europe or in parts of the U.S.

Offshore wind is also particularly valuable during a less windy season, summer. One might think of the “dog days of August” when temperatures are high but winds are calm. Yet offshore, it’s a different story, where the sea breeze kicks in during hot summer afternoons. In fact, we have found that during the highest summer electric demand hours, Cape Wind would double its average hourly electric production.

There is a lot of interest in the direct bill impacts for electricity consumers from Cape Wind.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MDPU) carried out lengthy adjudicatory proceedings and heard from energy experts and project supporters and opponents alike. The MDPU concluded that Massachusetts residential and business electric consumers will see an increase in the range of one to two percent on their monthly electric bills attributable to National Grid and NSTAR’s power purchase from Cape Wind. As with every other energy technology, the cost of harnessing offshore wind will fall as it is further built out and greater economies of scale are achieved.

Those who scoff at the energy contribution that offshore wind can play ignore key facts.  Denmark today gets 30 percent of its total electricity needs met by a combination of onshore and offshore wind power. Although Cape Wind’s electricity will be sold to electric consumers statewide, Cape Wind’s electricity supply will be consumed almost entirely on the Cape and Islands. Cape Wind’s turbines will produce power 88 percent of the time, and in average wind conditions will supply 75 percent of the average electricity demand of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

It has been a long road for Cape Wind, but we are now in our financing stage and preparing for project construction. Right now Europe is successfully operating 64 offshore wind farms that were built over the past 23 years, creating 58,000 offshore wind jobs in the process.  Massachusetts has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world and will soon have North America’s first offshore wind farm. Cape Wind will provide greater energy independence and electric reliability while also creating good jobs and contributing to a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future.

Mark Rodgers is the communications director of Cape Wind, based in Boston.

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If you have been marveling at the other marathon, that is, the marathon, unanesthetized colonoscopy now being performed on the Stop & Shop project, history suggests that this is nothing new. When we fight, especially when we consider change, we insular types don’t flag, we don’t cave, we hold grudges, we fight on. Winston Churchill — “Never give in”  — would be proud. The fight over the Nantucket Sound Islands Trust legislation went on for years, followed by the fight over the Martha’s Vineyard Commission legislation, the fight over the creation of the Land Bank, the battle over the golf courses, the vicious and wearing conflict over the Ramsey-Counter land claim, and on and on, beyond remembering.

But, it may be that the fight over Cape Wind, still muttering on in the background, will one day be crowned the mother of all political wars. Cape Wind, more than a decade in the application-permitting-financing journey, has not erected a single turbine, not created a single volt of electrical power, and it’s better than even money that it never will.

If you are one of those who favor a clean, plentiful, growing, cheap supply of energy to support the growth of the American economy — and, naturally enough, its many subdivisions, including this tiny, remote (but not remote enough) outpost we call home — I urge you not to despair.

The state of Massachusetts, in its nutty devotion to wind-powered, ocean-based generating plants deployed, in cooperation with the federal government, in a strangling circle around the Vineyard, does not feel your pain. Indeed, the state’s aim is not only to conspire over the Cape Wind project, but to elbow aside valid economic and environmental concerns expressed by Islanders, to allow, no matter what local opinions may hold, wind factories to the east, west and north of us. It’s a plan whose benefits are immeasurably small and diminishing compared with new, less expensive land based technologies — especially solar, whose installation costs have plunged in the last few years. But, it’s a plan whose time, if it ever came, has now gone.

Among the drawbacks, and the Cape Wind deal with National Grid draws this out plainly, are the state’s policy determinations to allow the expansion of wind generation, no matter what the cost to residential and commercial customers and no matter whether the local targets agree to the intrusion. Wind-driven sea-based power will be significantly more expensive than energy produced by any other source, but the state endorses it, subsidizes it, and would protect its higher costs by attempting to block energy suppliers from buying less expensive power — even power from renewables — created out of state. Absent the politically forced premium to be paid for Cape Wind electricity, the development of that wind turbine factory could not be funded. Wind power needs such well-intentioned but foolishly conceived support, otherwise developers of wind-driven electricity would not find financing or a market. At this point, wind enthusiasts point to billions in subsidies extended to other energy producers, notably oil. But, although oil doesn’t create much electricity in the U.S., it is a vital, current transportation fuel, and for good reason. Oil produces powerful energy, and does it relatively cheaply. It’s been worth subsidizing.

The argument here is that the energy future of our economy will be built on electricity and transportation fuels. Oil, whether produced here or abroad, does not figure significantly in electricity generation now and will certainly figure only marginally in the equation as we move forward. But it predominates as a motor fuel and a raw material in too many manufacturing processes to count, and it will continue to do so until replacement technologies can be concocted or discovered that furnish the same dense, cheap power and hugely variable utility.

The keys to plentiful, growing, and inexpensive sources of electrical power are conservation (especially in homes and vehicles), natural gas, and nuclear power. Something better may come along, but it won’t be wind. And, political manipulation will not make ocean-based wind power more desirable, more economical to build, or more reasonably priced for consumers.

As is apparent after a decade of debate over Cape Wind, the industrialization of 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound and of the empty ocean southwest and northwest of the Vineyard will diminish valuable, wild, clean seascapes, in exchange for modest, intermittent supplies of high-priced electricity that will in the end depend on traditionally fueled, efficient, powerful, economically scalable electricity generators capable of reliably producing power when we need it. And, doing it less expensively on a much less profligate footprint.

The Cape Wind deal to sell the electric power that the planned Nantucket Sound wind farm would one day produce will cost electricity end-users billions more than conventionally produced power. That’s not because wind-driven electricity is better electricity, or more dependable, or more easily scaled up to meet growing demand, or less demanding of the natural environment — consider the marine acreage to be consumed — but it’s because the political climate insists on it, no matter the costs.

For someone with a native fondness for New Bedford, the Whaling City, I’m happy to report that the only valuable spinoff from the failing Cape Wind project is the rehabilitation of a portion of the New Bedford waterfront.

Gov. Deval Patrick selected a portion of New Bedford’s waterfront that will be resurrected to serve Cape Wind’s construction and maintenance needs as the staging area for its turbine factory at Horseshoe Shoals. It’s about $35 million in investments, now underway in the form of dredging and dock building. We’re likely never to feel a single jolt from electricity produced by Cape Wind, but at least a community that needs investment and jobs is getting a lift from the project, now in hospice care.