If ever there was a project that enjoyed favorable winds from prevailing current events, it is the Cape Wind project slated for construction off the shoreline of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. When a tanker carrying oil to the Canal Electric plant split open and spilled nearing 100,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay, project advocates had a potent argument – and oil-dipped fowl – to make their case. And when US Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar recently announced his administration’s support for the project, he had the backdrop of the Gulf oil spill disaster to make a similar argument that oil and water don’t mix.
Yet, even as it is lining up support from state and national organizations and elected officials, the Cape Wind project is suddenly facing a new foe that hadn’t weighed in until just recently: namely cost.
No sooner had Salazar and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick raised the flag for the Cape Wind project did the issue of cost raise its ugly head. A doubling or even tripling of the price for Cape Wind electricity was well known within the permitting process, but was never seriously raised by journalists who found the “battle line” story more appealing and easier to cover. As the longtime (and former) media consultant to the opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, I was on those front lines when national media swarmed over Cape Cod to produce stories about how wealthy landowners were trying to protect their ocean views from an array of 130 turbines, each reaching 440 feet from the water surface to the tip of the blade.
One of the early journalists on the scene was John Stossel, whose “Give Me a Break” segment on ABC landed squarely in the Cape Wind camp and skewered the late Senator Ted Kennedy for his opposition. I convinced Stossel and his crew to talk to local fishermen about their opposition, but their voices were essentially ignored in a piece that pummeled anyone who raised a doubt about the project.
So, will the escalating cost of this electricity change anyone’s mind? Beyond Cape Wind, the deeper question is whether offshore wind can succeed now that the cost issue is out in front of consumers, instead of an after-the-fact revelation as it appears to be in Cape Wind’s case. In an economy mired in double-digit unemployment, selling green technology electricity at double the cost will be a hard sell and may imperil the massive offshore projects. .
Well, this seems to have given Stossel some fresh doubt, according to a blog he wrote this week: “I’m conflicted over the Cape Wind Project in Massachusetts,” Stossel writes. “The idea of wind power is appealing. Defeating the smug and hypocritical Kennedy family opposition to windmills that would barely affect their summer compound views is also appealing. But today’s WSJ editorial highlights the bad news hidden behind subsidies for wind power: ‘Namely: the price of electricity from wind is more than twice what consumers now pay.’”
Today, we Cape Cod consumers pay about nine cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. Cape Wind wants more than 20 cents.
“That works out to roughly $443 million in new energy costs, and that doesn’t count the federal subsidies that Cape Wind will receive from national taxpayers. It does, however, include the extra 6.1 cents per kilowatt hour that Massachusetts utilities are mandated to pay for wind, solar and the like under a 2008 state law called the Green Communities Act. Also under that law, at least 15% of power company portfolios must come from renewable sources by 2020… Given that taxpayers will be required to pay to build Cape Wind and then required to buy its product at prices twice normal rates, opponents might have more success if they simply pointed out what a lousy deal it is.”
Stossel adds: “It is a very lousy deal for taxpayers and electricity users.”
Stossel recently jumped to FOX from ABC and says in his blog that he is going to soon do a show on “Going Green” … and welcomes suggestions. Any ideas?