Longtime opponents of the controversial Cape Wind project are again challenging the proposed offshore wind development in court, saying the state overstepped its authority when it brokered an agreement for the utility NStar to purchase power from the offshore wind project.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — Cape Wind’s biggest detractor — the Town of Barnstable, and three Cape Cod businesses filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Boston Tuesday, arguing that the state discriminated against out-of-state power companies by pressuring the Boston utility to buy power from Cape Wind.
The suit alleges that NStar agreed to buy power from Cape Wind, rather than lower cost sources, to gain approval from Massachusetts regulators for its merger with Northeast Utilities, which was finalized in April 2012.
The suit turns on the issue of whether states have the power to require utilities to sign long-term contracts with energy producers, or if that power is reserved solely to the federal government. Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, is confident about the prospects of this latest suit given recent court decisions in Maryland and New Jersey that found state requirements for local utilities to sign long-term contracts with independent power producers unconstitutional.
“We’re optimistic we can win,” she said. “At the end of the day, 13 years, no Cape Wind.”
The suit names the state, NStar, and Cape Wind as defendants. Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers dismissed the suit as a “frivolous legal complaint with no merit.”
Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, NStar’s parent, called it unfortunate that the utility was named in the complaint.
“This case is similar to others that challenge the issue of state versus federal regulation of power markets,” she said. “We will abide by the ultimate outcome from the courts.”
The state is reviewing the case, said Krista Selmi of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The suit is one of several court cases filed against Cape Wind as opponents try to stop the project, in the works for more than a decade. Cape Wind, which is expected to cost more than $2.5 billion, received US approval in 2010 and has repeatedly won the major permits it needs to be built.
The Patrick administration orchestrated NStar’s deal to buy power from Cape Wind as part of the Boston utility’s merger with Northeast Utilities, which the state insisted must promote cleaner sources of energy. Governor Deval Patrick has called the deal a landmark agreement that would help the state achieve its goal to use more renewable energy and ultimately save ratepayers money.
NStar agreed to purchase power from Cape Wind at a starting price of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour, well above typical wholesale prices. Last year, for example, NStar and other Massachusetts utilities agreed to buy electricity from land-based wind projects at an average of less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour over the life of 15- to 20-year contracts.
Joe Keller, president of the Keller Company Inc., a real estate development company in Hyannis that is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he understands the need for clean, renewable power, but the Cape Wind project would put too much of a burden on ratepayers.
“It is difficult enough to run a business in this state without having to pay exorbitant electric bills that are totally unnecessary.”