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Cape Cod's Offshore Wind Project In Jeopardy


Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, were announced more than a dozen years ago. It was ambitious - 130 wind turbines in the scenic waters off Cape Cod. Well, today it looks like Cape Wind might never be built. Two of its biggest customers have abandoned contracts to buy power from the wind farm. Sean Corcoran, of member station WCAI, eye reports.

SEAN CORCORAN, BYLINE: After 13 years in the making, the battle to install a wind farm the waters off Cape Cod could soon be over, and opponents appear to be on the winning side. Two of the project's biggest customers, NSTAR and National Grid - the utilities poised by nearly 80 percent of Cape Winds expected electricity - announced Tuesday that they're backing out of their purchasing contracts.

AUDRA PARKER: So this is very bad news for Cape Wind.

CORCORAN: That's Audra Parker, the president of a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has led the onslaught against Cape Wind, challenging every regulatory and permitting step it took.

PARKER: So with the loss of those contracts it's a huge problem for Cape Wind, but it's very good news for opponents of Cape Wind, as well as rate payers all across Massachusetts who will, you know, avoid paying billions of dollars of unnecessary added costs related to Cape Wind.

CORCORAN: Cape Wind spokesperson Mark Rodgers acknowledges they did not meet a December 31 construction deadline, which prompted the contract terminations, but Rodgers says the delay was unavoidable. He blames the Alliance for stymieing Cape Wind's progress by delaying its construction through regulatory and court battles. And he includes in that blame the Alliance's greatest support, businessman Bill Koch, who'd be able to see the turbines from the windows of his Cape Cod vacation home.

MARK RODGERS: It would be a travesty if delays caused by an interest group funded by one of the Koch brothers could stop a project that would make Massachusetts a leader in offshore wind and create good jobs and help mitigate climate change.

CORCORAN: It's not certain that the Cape Wind project is dead, but even some of its most ardent supporters say they don't know how it could go forward. It doesn't have all its financing in hand to begin construction and now it doesn't even have customers to buy its electricity if it is built. Susan Tierney is a Boston-based energy and environmental consultant who's worked with Cape Wind officials in support of the project. She says it was important for Cape Wind to succeed in order to spur on other offshore projects.

SUSAN TIERNEY: They were looked at by the banks, by other developers in the region, by environmental groups, as being the place where we could start to see some progress. And oh, boy, it's a big disappointment.

CORCORAN: Former Massachusetts energy official Ian Bowles also worked to shepherd the project along through state government, but with the contracts gone, he doesn't see how Cape Wind can recover. In his mind, the issue now is what impact could Cape Wind's demise have on other offshore initiatives?

IAN BOWLES: For the offshore wind industry, which doesn't exist in the United States, it does in Europe, where they've got, you know, a hundred Cape Winds in the U.K. and in other countries. You know, I do think it tends to delay the growth and development of an offshore wind industry, you know, in the United States.

CORCORAN: For its part, Cape Wind isn't rolling over. It says there's a legal argument to be made that its purchasing contract with the utilities are still valid. But for advocates of clean energy and offshore wind, the big question is if Cape Wind couldn't get built after 13 years, if it couldn't find the funding it needs or the customers, will different developers and financiers be willing to take a chance on their own projects? For NPR News, I'm Sean Corcoran on Cape Cod. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sean Corcoran is both news director and senior reporter at WCAI in Woods Hole. He also is a managing editor for WGBH Radio. He began producing investigative series for WCAI in 2005, after moving to Cape Cod. In 2006 his 20-part series "Two Cape Cods: Hidden Poverty on the Cape and Islands,"won the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, considered the highest award in broadcast journalism. Recent series' topics include the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant; wind power; Alzheimer's Research and caregiving; military groundwater pollution; our changing energy systems; special education; and various science, health and ecology-related stories. For the first nine years of his career Corcoran worked as a staff reporter for various New England newspapers before moving to public radio. Corcoran is a graduate of The George Washington University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is a former 3rd grade teacher and adjunct journalism professor. He occasionally performs onstage with his father, an accomplished Irish entertainer. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Linda Corcoran, who is heard on-air on Friday mornings in her capacity as the Managing Editor at the Cape Cod Times. The couple has a young son, Seamus.
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