We can do better. We ought to do better.
By Joseph P. Kennedy II
From the Cape Cod Times
For the last eight years, people across all political persuasions, income levels and regions have debated the legitimacy of Cape Wind, the proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
Despite being in the wind business, I have remained on the sidelines because my firm belief is that we have an immediate need as a commonwealth and a country to establish a sustainable and secure energy policy. After countless threats and several embargoes by the oil cartel OPEC and daily reports about the severe and often irreversible consequences of global warming, it is clear to me that we need to transition to an energy policy based on home-grown, renewable energy sources for the survival and growth of this country.
The truth of the matter is that whether we build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound or on an apple orchard in Maine, there will always be those who argue that it detracts from the scenery. I believe strongly that we can't let our aesthetic differences get in the way of our commitment to achieving energy security and cutting carbon emissions.
Separately, working in partnership with Native American tribes throughout this country on wind development projects, Citizens Energy makes sure that historically significant areas are not disturbed in the process of meeting our shared renewable goals.
However, as Cape Wind gets closer and closer to receiving permit approval and securing a power contract, I think Massachusetts residents deserve an open and honest accounting about the true impact this project will have on our hard-earned dollars and on our economy as a whole.
At a time when American taxpayers just bailed out Wall Street and now one in 10 people are without a job, we must make sure that our policy decisions to make this energy transition minimize the financial burden we place on those who can least afford it. If not, we will be building the great white elephant in Nantucket Sound for political benefit and thumbing our noses at the public's well being.
Instead, we need to make sure we are promoting development of cost-effective green energy first and fostering a fair, competitive marketplace by providing a framework for long-term industry stability. Unfortunately, Cape Wind fails on both accounts.
A quick comparison of costs to produce offshore wind — that is, wind power built in the water off our coasts — reveals a telling tale.
Electricity produced by offshore wind costs between 15 and 20 cents a kilowatt hour compared to 5 to 9 cents a kilowatt hour for land-based wind, biomass, natural gas and coal. While we certainly need to make technology improvements in carbon sequestration to deal with coal's harmful emissions, the fact is that the U.S. has an abundance of energy sources that are far less costly than offshore wind.
What seems unconscionable to me is that our political leaders are supporting the most expensive energy choice for Massachusetts residents. At 420 megawatts, Cape Wind's energy will likely cost $2 billion to $3 billion more to produce over 20 years than if this energy were generated from land-based wind farms.
Cape Wind hides the cost of the project by spreading it among all their Massachusetts ratepayers, who would still end up paying an additional $125 a year for 20 years. For the same cost as Cape Wind, we could produce two to three times the amount of renewable energy from onshore wind and spread the benefits throughout the commonwealth — meaning more jobs for our citizens, more tax revenue for our schools and more opportunity for our businesses.
According to a recent report by the regulator for electric supply for New England, there are more than 100 gigawatts of onshore wind potential in New England — more than 200 times the capacity of Cape Wind. That is enough energy to supply power to over 24 million homes, more than four times the number of homes in New England.
But instead, our leaders are endorsing one project that will supply power to about a couple hundred thousand homes at a steep cost to millions. We recently witnessed the effects that high-cost offshore wind power have on electricity rates after National Grid — the same utility currently negotiating with Cape Wind — signed a long-term contract to buy power at over 24 cents a kilowatt hour from a Rhode Island developer. National Grid acknowledged that this would increase electricity bills in year one and make them escalate over the 20-year life of the contract.
Additionally, this project will not encourage a fair, competitive renewable energy industry because of the massive amounts of subsidies and taxpayer dollars needed to make it viable. A staggering $400 million in direct taxpayer subsidies will go to prop up Cape Wind over the life of the project — subsidies that will help produce a profit for Cape Wind's executives and shareholders.
While we all acknowledge the need to make sacrifices for our commitment to this energy transition, we can only support this transition on the backs of the American taxpayer for so long. Here in Massachusetts, we contribute to this effort through our electricity bills. But the sheer size of Cape Wind will direct such a significant sum of our money to one effort that it will crowd out future investment in the commonwealth. This means that jobs that could have gone to Massachusetts residents will instead go elsewhere.
Advocates for Cape Wind might argue that it's no different than the highly successful Commonwealth Solar program, a renewable energy initiative supported by taxpayer dollars. After all, the costs of solar electricity are comparable to offshore wind. But in this case, the state has chosen to allocate taxpayer dollars to benefit hundreds of small projects across Massachusetts. In doing so, Commonwealth Solar provided rebates to more than 1,200 different projects, and the electricity produced by these solar panels is being used at the site where it is generated — helping to save money for our businesses by offsetting the retail electricity purchased from the utility.
We elect our leaders to protect the public trust. Their job is to represent our best interests, whether under the watchful eye of our State House's golden dome, or within earshot of Congress' marble hallways. Right now, it seems our elected officials have instead chosen to engage in closed-door negotiations with designs on benefiting their own political agendas, and the bank accounts of a few handpicked developers. They hide behind good intentions, yet they intentionally ignore more responsible, cost-effective energy options. Quite frankly, it is their responsibility to pursue those options first.
We can do better. We ought to do better.
Joseph P. Kennedy II is founder, chairman and president of the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation.