Cape Wind deal good news for New Bedford project

By Steve Urbon
NEW BEDFORD — The decision by NStar to buy power from Cape Wind as part of a merger with Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities is a huge boost to the development of a 20-acre site at South Terminal for marine construction, shipping and repairs, those involved told The Standard-Times today.
The deal, in which the company would buy 27.5 percent of Cape Wind’s power, will help the merged companies meet the state’s desire for affordable renewable energy, according to NStar spokesman Michael Durand.
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr. is calling Gov. Deval Patrick’s strategy “legalized extortion,” but together with a deal with National Grid to buy 50 percent of Cape Wind’s power, it puts Cape Wind in the long-awaited position to finally begin the search for financing, according to spokesman Mark Rogers.
The deal with Cape Wind will also require the sign-off of Connecticut utility regulators, according to Mayor Jon Mitchell.
The plan is to use the New Bedford site short-term for the assembly of 130 wind turbines for Cape Wind, and others that are almost certain to come along, said Paul Vigeant of UMass Dartmouth, who is also part of a new organization called the Marine Renewable Energy Center.
With three-quarters of Cape Wind’s power spoken for, not only does it take a leap forward toward becoming reality but so does the harbor development to support it. That makes a stronger argument for state funding of the $35 million project because it relieves a lot of doubt.
Matthew Morrissey, the city’s economic development director, made it clear that there is more in store for the South Terminal development than Cape Wind long-term, but Cape Wind will be a good jump-start. Future uses will likely include break-bulk cargo operations including a crane, and other marine work.
Vigeant is excited by the prospects. “Twenty percent of the whole U.S. wind reserve is right off the Elizabeth Islands,” he said. With that remarkable fact, “We are to ocean-based energy what Alaska is to the North Slope. That zone will be developed 20 to 30 miles offshore.”
European wind companies today hire many former fishermen and other seamen to maintain and repair wind turbines, Vigeant said, and he expects the same will happen here, creating hundreds of job opportunities in the region.
New Bedford, he said, is perfectly positioned to base those operations. He added that the compact nature of the region makes it much less costly for offshore wind farms to connect to the grid for the Northeast Corridor. Laying cable today costs $2 million a mile, he said.
City officials say that the South Terminal project, which involves building a 1,200-foot bulkhead, is not absolutely dependent on Cape Wind, and that it needs to be built whatever happens to Cape Wind, partly because State Pier, built on pilings, cannot support a shipping crane for short-sea shipping.
But Cape Wind gives the project an immediate boost. “Buying wind power from Cape Wind is very significant because it means the chances for the South Terminal project have just become that much better,” Mitchell said.
The governor’s office and state energy office did not offer a comment today.
February 16, 2012 6:37 PM
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