Business & Tech

Cape Wind faces a new foe: former House speaker Tom Finneran

A large wind turbine, similar to the 130 such devices that would have been used for the Cape Wind project.
Stephan Savoia/Associated Press
A large wind turbine, similar to the 130 such devices that would have been used for the Cape Wind project.

Who killed Cape Wind?

It’s a question developer Jim Gordon may be asking if he doesn’t get some help soon on Beacon Hill. Some probably thought the wind farm for Nantucket Sound was already dead, done in by an inability to land crucial financing more than a year ago. But Gordon doesn’t give up easily.

Gordon and Dennis Duffy, vice president at Gordon’s Energy Management Inc. in Boston, recently pinned their hopes on a state energy bill that would prompt utilities to contract with offshore wind developers. But they were blindsided when a version was drafted specifically to exclude them. The project that has refused to die may have met its final fate.

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The first House version, released last month, would prevent any firm with offshore rights that date back before 2012 from bidding on these energy contracts. Its language would prohibit one project: Cape Wind’s.

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Last week, the House leadership doubled down, adding a section that would prevent any offshore wind project within 10 miles of an inhabited area from bidding. Again, a certain Nantucket Sound wind farm was the only proposal to be shut out.

Duffy came out swinging, with a statement that accuses Cape Wind’s old enemy, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of blocking what could be Cape Wind’s last best hope for survival.

The reason?

The alliance this spring hired Tom Finneran, the former House Speaker-turned-lobbyist — just weeks before the energy bill was released by House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s leadership team. DeLeo, a former Boston Latin classmate of Finneran’s, was also part of the leadership team when Finneran ran the House.

Bill Brett for the Boston Globe/File
Tufts Health Chief Operating Officer Tom Croswell (left) and former House Speaker Tom Finneran in 2012.

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Then there’s the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a high-powered group of big-company chief executives that worked behind the scenes over the years to kill Cape Wind, pointing to the project’s costs and the burden it would impose on energy bills. The partnership persisted even after Cape Wind lost its contracts with National Grid and Eversource last year, going on record against the project as recently as April.

Some insiders point to Cape Cod’s legislative delegation, which has been largely opposed to the project. And there are pro-wind forces that aren’t stepping up to help Cape Wind because they’ve moved on to other priorities or are worried that the project could scuttle the energy bill by drawing a target for Cape Wind’s enemies.

A spokesman for Offshore Wind Massachusetts, the trade group that represents three wind farm developers looking to build farther offshore, said it was not behind the exclusionary language in the House legislation and welcomes competition from Cape Wind. But it’s not rushing to Cape Wind’s aid.

Audra Parker, the alliance’s CEO, is normally outspoken about every twist and turn in the Cape Wind saga. She’ll talk about where things stand with her group’s legal fight against Cape Wind in Washington. But she said she won’t comment about the Massachusetts legislation until the bill is done.

Finneran, meanwhile, makes no secret of the fact he has talked to legislative leaders about Cape Wind. They understand, he said, that the deep-water options proposed by the other developers are superior to the “horse-and-buggy” technology Cape Wind is looking to deploy in Nantucket Sound.

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Finneran also said that Cape Wind “would mar a really very special, precious resource” — Nantucket Sound.

Cape Wind developers should instead consider the deeper waters, south of Martha’s Vineyard, Finneran said. “The deep-water sites have been vetted thoroughly by the federal government, and they have taken into account virtually every factor that man could imagine,” Finneran said.

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said the Legislature gave Cape Wind “every opportunity to succeed.” He cited a 2008 bill that paved the way for Cape Wind to obtain those utility contracts that it lost last year. Gitell echoed Finneran’s concerns, saying the deeper waters are “where the wind is ideal, and offshore wind projects will have the best chance of success and will be the best deal for ratepayers.”

Opponents say Cape Wind would be too expensive, based on the prices in the now-discarded utility contracts. But Gordon and Duffy said those are outdated prices, and that Cape Wind deserves a chance to compete on price with the newer arrivals, such as Dong Energy and Deepwater Wind.

The developers behind Cape Wind were banking on this wind bill to land the financing that has escaped them so far. They still have some hope of persuading Senate leaders to strike the anti-Cape Wind language from the energy bill.

But timing is not in their favor: The closer we get to the July 31 end of the Legislature’s formal sessions, the more likely it will be that leaders on Beacon Hill will pick options that would allow them to steer clear of controversy, to get certain bills passed quickly. Cape Wind would bring more than its fair share of debate to the table.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.