Cape Wind signs lease for New Bedford staging area

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Announcing a lease deal with Cape Wind, state officials said they expect the offshore wind-farm developers, who are still fighting lawsuits and assembling financing, to begin operations at the South Coast Marine Terminal in New Bedford in January 2015.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center on Friday announced that under a two-year lease, Cape Wind will pay $4.5 million in rent to use the 28-acre facility. The lease terms include options for two one-year extensions. After breaking ground in April 2013 on a terminal designed to meet the heavy-machinery needs of wind turbine construction, construction is 80 percent complete, and officials expect it to be finished in December 2014.

Cape Wind last week filed a “request for modification” of its construction and operations plan with the federal government to allow the use of the New Bedford terminal — the project has long been listing Quonset Point in Rhode Island as its staging area. Audra Parker, president of the Alliance for Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind, said the project’s federal permits “have always called for staging in Rhode Island” and said the project “must now undergo additional federal review for a move to a New Bedford location,” adding to the legal and financial hurdles facing the project.

Project spokesman Mark Rodgers said Cape Wind officials hope to retain Quonset Point as a backup, and opted for New Bedford because of confidence that the terminal project will be completed on time. In a statement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren described herself as “very happy Cape Wind will be built in New Bedford.” Sen. Mark Montigny called the lease an “important first step,” and said more must be done in the areas of offshore wind and cargo handling to ensure the success of the terminal and the Port of New Bedford. Massachusetts has begun a study to assess routes and connection locations to incorporate offshore wind power into the electric grid.