Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon not giving up on project
Don’t count Jim Gordon out just yet.
The president of Cape Wind developer Energy Management Inc. has not given up on the controversial wind farm project in Nantucket Sound. Cape Wind suffered what many saw as a death blow in January when Gordon and his team missed a crucial financing deadline and lost major contracts from utilities Eversource Energy and National Grid as a result, making it nearly impossible to attract the investment needed to start construction
But developments in recent weeks have made Gordon more hopeful that the project, which he worked on for more than a decade, can be revived.
There’s increased support on Beacon Hill for legislation that would prompt utilities to enter into more long-term contracts for clean energy, including a potential requirement that some of it comes from offshore wind sources. Gordon, whose firm is also working on solar and biomass projects, said he’s hoping to position Cape Wind to bid on those long-term contracts.
The recently announced closing of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant by 2019, meanwhile, is putting additional pressure on lawmakers and policy makers to find new sources of power that don’t produce greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels such as natural gas and contribute to climate change.
“It’s just more urgent [now] to really start accelerating the penetration of renewable energy projects in this region,” said Gordon, who was a major player in building the first generation of natural gas plants in New England. “We think we’ve got a terrific project in a great location.”
Cape Wind was first, by at least a decade, with plans to erect as many as 130 turbines in the waters south of Cape Cod. But now the company has competition: Three other developers — Providence-based Deepwater Wind, Denmark’s Dong Energy, and the Blackstone Group-backed OffshoreMW of Princeton, N.J. — have secured leases for major areas that are farther offshore, south of New England. Deepwater Wind also has started construction on a small wind farm near Block Island that is scheduled to be completed next year.
Gordon said he believes Cape Wind, despite criticisms that its power would be too expensive, would be able to compete on price with other offshore projects.
“We were kind of a lonely voice for over a decade,” Gordon said. “It’s wonderful to see new entrants come into the market [so] we’re not alone in extolling the benefits of offshore wind.”
Gordon lost an important ally in the governor’s office when Deval Patrick left in January. Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is interested in offshore wind, but is reluctant to support mandated long-term contracts for offshore wind projects without knowing more about their potential costs.
“The Administration is pursuing efforts to secure reliable, clean, affordable energy from hydro-electric providers in the near term,” Baker spokesman Peter Lorenz said in a statement, “but the Administration recognizes that offshore wind can play a part in the Commonwealth’s energy strategy going forward.”
Audra Parker, chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has battled Cape Wind in state and federal courts for years, said she doesn’t expect Cape Wind to recover from the loss of its utility contracts. That said, the Alliance, backed by billionaire Bill Koch, continues its legal war: The group’s challenge to Cape Wind’s development rights for federal waters in Nantucket Sound is before the US Court of Appeals in Washington.
“Their situation is not looking good for them, but they have not given up,” Parker said. “Nantucket Sound is still vulnerable.”
Parker said the newer wind developers’ turbines would be larger than Cape Wind’s, meaning they could generate more power, and their wind farms, unlike Cape Wind, would not mar coastal views.
“There’s now real competition in the offshore wind market that was not there when Cape Wind began,” said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Jim Gordon was a hero to many as a pioneer. But you now have players coming that are experienced and deep pocketed, and offer competitive pricing.”
That said, construction at any offshore location is still bound to be expensive, said Jim Bride, president of the Cambridge-based Energy Tariff Experts consultancy. And the relatively low prices of the bids for the development rights for two massive areas south of Massachusetts, Bride said, indicate the uncertainties surrounding the nascent offshore wind business in this country. In an auction in January, for example, the bidder for the 187,000-acre area now controlled by Dong Energy agreed to pay about $281,000 for the development rights.
“You can’t even buy a small house within 128 for the price that those leases went for,” Bride said. “It’s not like there was a whole lot of interest. It’s still kind of a gamble for anyone willing to invest in it.”