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On the Hot Seat

Cape Wind fight isn’t over for staunch opponent

Audra Parker, chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Steve Haines for The Boston Globe

Audra Parker, chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

As chief executive of the nonprofit Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Audra Parker has been the face and the voice of those battling to stop the Cape Wind project from building more than 100 turbines in the waters off Cape Cod. She recently met with Globe reporter Erin Ailworth to talk about her love of the Cape and Islands and commitment to fighting Cape Wind’s construction despite regulators’ repeated approvals for the offshore project.

You clearly love the Cape. How did you develop that connection?

My parents are both immigrants from Lithuania, and we were fortunate enough to have a small summer cottage on the Cape [where] I spent summers when I was young. I spent a lot of time at the beach, just enjoying a fairly simple lifestyle.

You joined the alliance in 2003, about two years after it was founded, and shortly after your husband died of cancer. How did you make that decision?

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I was approached by a neighbor who was interested in getting involved in this fight. I shared the sentiment that Nantucket Sound was a national treasure and should absolutely be protected from industrial development.

[So] it was a confluence of my personal life, my husband passing away, and the need and the desire to put myself into a cause or back into a professional career mixed with the fact that I have a passion about Nantucket Sound. The fact that a private developer could destroy that I found to be hugely problematic.

Tell me about the alliance. The group has made headlines for having supporters like fossil fuel magnate William I. Koch, who cochairs the alliance’s board.

We’re about 30,000 members strong. We probably have over 5,000 donors from all different demographic [and] socioeconomic levels.

Since Cape Wind’s price tag is well-known, the opposition across the state, not just on the Cape and Islands, has increased dramatically. And not just among residents, but by businesses and by organizations like the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The alliance has been at this fight for more than 10 years now. Why do you think there hasn’t yet been a resolution?

I think that it has gone on so long just because it is so controversial, and because the developer picked a profit-maximizing site that had the right technical criteria for him [but] was hugely conflicted from a public interest standpoint.

National Grid and NStar have agreed to pay Cape Wind 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour for the power the project generates. You think it will be more?

Yes. That [price is] assuming operation in 2013. That’s assuming that Cape Wind would qualify for some of the federal tax credits and subsidies that are expiring or have expired. And in the case that those are not available, the starting price becomes around 22 cents per kilowatt hour, and with a 3.5 percent guaranteed annual escalator you’re looking at about 35 cents per kilowatt hour in the final year of the contract. Today’s residential [electric] rates in Massachusetts are in the 6-to-7cent range.

So how do you feel about the wind energy areas that the government is currently considering in federal waters?

It is a superior approach to allowing developers like Cape Wind to single out areas based solely on technical criteria. If you just look geographically at Nantucket Sound, it is a body of water that is surrounded by land, by the islands, by Cape Cod. So it’s truly different than a typical offshore area, and that’s why you have many of the conflicts.

Despite those arguments, regulators have — for the most part — repeatedly given the necessary approvals for the project. Where does that leave the alliance’s efforts?

Cape Wind today is not a done deal. Cape Wind is now facing an additional five federal lawsuits by numerous groups. [And] it has not sold all of its expensive power. Ten years later, Cape Wind cannot begin construction, and that’s the result of a serious fight from the local community. Ultimately, this project has been boosted by or has moved forward due to politics, not its merit.

How long do you keep fighting?

We fight until we win. Our mission is long term protection of Nantucket Sound, and our position is that we support sensible renewable energy but not a project like Cape Wind.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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