Energy Policy and Massachusetts
Energy efficiency is by no means a permanent solution, but it should be a permanent part of the solution. Sensible energy use, combined with new power resources, is the only workable answer for New England.
Robert Sullivan's review of "Cape Wind" (June 17), about the battle over the development of a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, made me wonder why a majority of Cape Cod and island residents would oppose a project that promised them clean, cheap, non polluting renewable energy at a time when everyone is focused on making America energy independent. You can start with the fact that this project won't deliver lowercost energy because offshore wind is by far the most expensive form of energy. You can then wonder what all the fuss is about when you understand that at its optimum operating efficiency (an average of 170 megawatts, according to Cape Wind's own Web site, and not the 468 megawatts its proponents claim) it would produce just 1 percent of New England's electricity supply. And because wind energy is inherently unpredictable (it depends on when the wind is blowing and cannot be stored), fossil fuel plants would always have to be online as reserve power to keep our lights on. Concluding his review, Sullivan mentions the growing opposition to a wind farm proposal off the coast of Long Island. This opposition is bolstered by the economic facts of the project - according to previously confidential documents obtained by Newsday, energy from the proposed wind plant would cost Long Island ratepayers as much as double the wholesale cost of energy.
The headlines focused on NStar's commitment to purchase 27 percent of the expensive power to be generated by Cape Wind - something the utility had been loath to do. Less noticed was another concession NStar made: that it would not use any hydropower to meet state-mandated renewable energy targets for the next five years.
What hasn't received national attention is the stunning taxpayer subsidized profits the developer is expecting to reap from the project. A study by the Massachusetts based Beacon Hill Institute found that the proposed $1 billion dollars in subsidies from the project would contribute to a nearly 25% return on equity by investors - more than twice the average historical for return for all corporations. Add taxpayers to that list of groups opposed to the project.
We're not anti-wind. We're not anti-industry. We believe that wind farms have a role to play on appropriate land parcels, but this bill would force municipalities to adhere to the state's approval criteria and it would effectively silence opposition from property owners affected by a wind turbine installation.
Whether you are for or against wind farms in Massachusetts you should be aware that the pending Wind Energy Siting Reform Act of 2009 is a threat to your freedom and constitutional rights. This Act is currently being fast-tracked through the state Legislature with virtually no on-the-record public debate at the insistence of Gov. Patrick, the wind energy industry and its financiers.
So now the state would electrify our mountains and turn the Berkshires into the Land of the Giant Turbines -- likely for the benefit -- if any -- of communities in Boston or Central Mass. This is a bad idea at best, with so many arguments against it that it's hard to know where to begin, other than to suggest that state Sec. of Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles be run out of state on a high-speed rail.
The governor has declared a goal of 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power in Massachusetts by the year 2020, and his staff has commissioned a study showing that over half could be located in the Berkshires. ...It's hard to imagine so many 40-story structures on our mountains, but the state has already mapped them, identifying more than 50 places with enough acreage and estimated wind resources to support from five to 53 industrial wind turbines.
Now that the Cape Cod Commission is appealing the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board's approval of the proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound to the state's highest court, it's important to consider the stakes involved.
This is not about the merits or demerits of the project. The appeal is about the ability of a state board, made up of nine gubernatorial appointees, to overrule a regional authority simply because the project developer submitted an application to the Cape Cod Commission.
The focus is on renewables, the energy sources that we imagine will displace carbon-based sources in the future as, to make it so, we constrain and tax abundant oil, natural gas, and coal supplies into undeserved oblivion. Good luck to us, I suppose.
But, bearing in mind the allure of the renewables, one despairs of what is non-renewable about the near shore waters we have till now enjoyed and exploited so enthusiastically.
Only absolute necessity, only an absence of viable alternatives, could ever justify the degradation of our mountains, and I am confident that if people take the time to study the situation, they will conclude that many less destructive and more productive and dependable alternatives are available.
I have spent years and resources protecting open lands and have served on The Nature Conservancy's Boston board, The Berkshire Natural Resources Council board (still there), Project Native (also still there) and am active on the Green Berkshires board which is the principal advocate for information and facts pertaining to wind . It is a betrayal of our many years of conservation work for preservation of our forest lands to litter our hilltops with turbines for the minuscule difference they can possibly make.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's wind energy agenda has led Commonwealth communities into expensive capital expenditures. Now, agencies, under his watch, fortify his agenda and turn theirs back on the community. Falmouth is left windburned and forced to fix itself.
Green energy has been on the subsidy take for years, including in 2005 when Mr. Delahunt was calling for "an Apollo project for alternative energy sources, for hybrid engines, for biodiesel, for wind and solar and everything else." The reality is that all such projects are only commercially viable because of political patronage.
Tufts economist Gilbert Metcalf ran the numbers and found that the effective tax rate for wind is minus-163.8%. In other words, every dollar a wind firm spends is subsidized to the tune of 64 cents from the government.
In the Williams/Whitcomb world of tabloid journalism, there is no room for thoughtful discussion, for weighing costs against benefits, for understanding that self-interest is at work on both sides of the issue or for any kind of honest discussion. Such thoughts would get in the way of the facile thinking and cynical blather that fills their book and that is now commonplace on TV, radio and the Internet. Do you find yourself bored now that Don Imus and Rosie O'Donnell are off the air? Does the Internet no longer meet your need for trash talk? Then read this book. You won't learn anything substantive from it, but it'll be great entertainment.
Do you remember open-book tests, the ones where you could look up the answers to the questions?
Those are the kind of tests that Cape Wind has passed.
Here are some questions that weren't on the test.
What right do you have to build an energy plant in what amounts to an ocean sanctuary?
How can you describe the Nantucket Sound project as the harbinger of more offshore energy installations when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement listed so many problems with alternative sites?
Why should the project's impact on cultural resources such as Barnstable's historic districts be left unaddressed until some post-approval negotiation over mitigation?
How can a state agency charged to overturn the decisions of state and local agencies (if these actions would threaten the provision of adequate and appropriate power supplies) reject a regional regulatory commission's judgment? How, indeed, when the state Legislature that created both decreed that the commission's actions could be challenged only in the courts?
When there is no wind no power is produced. When the wind blows at night, battery storage power is as primitive now as it was in 1990, with very little improvement. The Big Breakthrough in proton exchange membranes and fuel cells is still a research hypothesis ...Thus, based on economics the conclusion is that Cape Wind is a No Build project.
Time and technology have caught up with Cape Wind. Its advantage of six years ago as a novel proposal is now flattened by the advance of deeper-water wind technology (as well as promised advances in wave and tidal energy generation).
By the time Cape Wind could be up and running - by 2011 or 2012 at the earliest - commercial-scale deeper-water projects will be a reality. No matter how you spin it, deeper-water locations are a better alternative to Cape Wind. The winds are stronger, the potential is greater and the risks are significantly lower.
Cape Wind - composed of unnecessary rate hikes, sweetheart deals and hidden costs - has been disguised by a clean, green energy cloak, camouflage enough to fool any environmentally conscious consumer into thinking that if it looks green, it must be good.
Cape Wind is not good for Massachusetts.
As Cape Wind gets closer and closer to receiving permit approval and securing a power contract, I think Massachusetts residents deserve an open and honest accounting about the true impact this project ...At a time when American taxpayers just bailed out Wall Street and now one in 10 people are without a job, we must make sure that our policy decisions to make this energy transition minimize the financial burden we place on those who can least afford it.