Offshore wind still the best bet for clean energy

Boston Globe

By Ann Berwick   JUNE 29, 2015

But the bill has it right: For the Northeast to address climate change, developing offshore wind is a necessity. That’s because nothing beats offshore wind for generating power.

There is no longer any question among reputable scientists that greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity are largely responsible for climate change. Conceptually, doing something to reduce those emissions is remarkably simple. Most of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions come from just three sources: electricity generation, transportation, and the heating of buildings. To cut emissions drastically, we need to do three things: reduce the amount of energy we use; “green” the electric grid with renewable sources of energy; and — as much as possible — use that clean electricity to run electric vehicles and heat buildings.

In other words, green electricity can keep the lights on while phasing out gasoline and dirty heating oil.

Offshore wind energy fits into this picture because of the need for clean electricity generation — both to power everything we now use electricity for, and as a prerequisite to electrifying transportation and heating.

In this part of the country, there are currently only four potential large sources of renewable power for generating electricity: onshore wind, hydropower (mostly from Canada and some from northern New England), solar, and offshore wind. Examine each option more closely and it becomes apparent that we cannot do without offshore wind.

Onshore wind power from northern New England is an important resource. But getting the power to Massachusetts requires transmission lines through the northern states, which poses a big political challenge. Placing large numbers of onshore wind turbines in southern New England is impractical — the area is more densely populated, and we will never have the large land-based wind farms here that have been built out West.

An enormous amount of hydropower is generated by huge rivers in Canada, and to some extent in northern New England. But the so-called “Northern Pass” proposal for transmission lines for hydropower from Canada through New Hampshire is on the rocks politically, which speaks, again, to the difficulty of running transmission lines south.

Solar power is becoming more affordable, and over time will become an increasingly significant source of electricity.

But given current technologies, no other renewable resource can compete in terms of scale with offshore wind. The northeastern and mid-Atlantic coast are some of the windiest areas in the world. Even though Massachusetts has done a remarkable job of increasing solar power over the last eight years, Cape Wind alone would produce more than half the power generated by all of the solar panels installed in the state to date. Europe is way ahead of us, with 74 offshore wind farms generating power equivalent to the production of 10 large coal-fired power plants, according to the European Wind Energy Association.

Yes, offshore wind remains expensive, although the economies of scale that will come with the development of an offshore wind industry should drive prices down. In addition, many other ways to keep electricity costs down have not been fully exploited. The most important are conservation and efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has rated Massachusetts first in the nation in those departments, but we can do even better. The potential for conservation and efficiency is virtually limitless. For instance, the incandescent light bulbs still in circulation and some Energy Star air conditioning units are — at best — just 10 percent efficient. That means that 90 percent of their electricity is wasted. The point is that we don’t have to use anywhere close to the amount of electricity we do now, no matter how it is generated.

To create a truly green electric grid, however, we need offshore wind in a big way. It’s time for Massachusetts to stand up to the billions of dollars that funded the opposition that stopped Cape Wind. A commitment by the state Legislature to offshore generation would send that signal and offer meaningful encouragement to potential wind developers.

Ann Berwick was Massachusetts’ undersecretary for energy and later headed the Department of Public Utilities in the Patrick administration.

Posted in clean energy, Energy production, wind power

World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine Unveiled in Fukushima


Cole Mellino | June 22, 2015

Japan officially unveiled today its 7 megawatt (MW) wind turbine, the world’s largest offshore turbine to date. It is slated to be operational by September.

The Fukushima Wind Project, located about 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, installed a 2 MW wind turbine in November 2013. The turbines are part of a pilot project led by Marubeni Co. and funded by the Japanese government with research and support from several public and private organizations, including the University of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The new turbine, which will tower 220 meters above the sea, will transmit electricity to the grid via submarine cable, according to The Japan Times. The government has allocated 50 billion yen ($405 million) for the project, which allows turbines to float in areas that are “too deep for traditional towers fixed to the seafloor,” says Bloomberg News. There are plans to add a third floating turbine with a generating capacity of 5 MW later in the year, which will bring the total output capacity of the project to 14 MW.

Offshore turbines, which have garnered a lot of support in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, “enjoy the benefit of more stable wind than onshore models, and are more efficient because they are not hampered by the constraints posed by land and transportation,” says The Japan Times. 

“Countries are exploring floating offshore wind technology and Japan is in a sense at the same level with Norway and Portugal,” which have about 2 MW of offshore wind generating capacity, Yasuhiro Matsuyama, a trade ministry official in charge of clean energy projects, told Bloomberg News.

In the U.S., Deepwater Wind broke ground (or should I say broke water) this spring on the country’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island. When it is finished, the five turbines will have a generating capacity of 30 MW.


Posted in clean energy, Energy production, wind power

Green-Energy Inspiration Off the Coast of Denmark


Before dawn one morning in October, a handful of Americans gathered at a lonely pier on Samso, a small Danish island about four hours from Copenhagen. Bundled in layers of fleece and wool, the Americans, mostly from islands off the Maine coast, had come to get a closer look at a wind farm — 10 mighty turbines spinning in the Kattegat strait — that has helped make Samso a symbol for a greener future, one powered entirely by renewable energy.

Among them was Marian Chioffi, the bookkeeper at the electric company in Monhegan, Me., whose population of about 60 swells to include hundreds of residents and thousands of tourists in the summer. They — along with generations of artists like Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and Jamie Wyeth — have been drawn by the island’s lost-in-time charm and picturesque setting in the Gulf of Maine.

Monhegan faces challenges as stark as its beauty. Foremost among them — and the spur for the journey to Denmark — is dependence on expensive, dirty fuels for heating and electricity. Even with the recent fall in oil prices, Monhegan residents pay among the highest power rates in the nation — almost six times the national average — and the electric company, locally owned and operated, struggles to keep the lights on.

Twenty years ago, Samso faced similar problems. Its farming and fishing industries were in decline, and its electricity and heating costs, mostly from diesel and coal, were rising. Its young people were leaving the island to attend high school and choosing not to return.

But in 1997, the island began a long-term transformation. It won a government-sponsored contest to create a model community for renewable energy and, through a combination of wind and solar (for electricity) and geothermal and plant-based energy (for heating), the island reached green energy independence in 2005. That means Samso actually generates more power from renewable sources than it consumes over all. Attached by a power cable to the mainland 11 miles away, the island sells its excess electricity to the national utility, bringing income to the hundreds of residents who own shares in the island’s wind farms, both on land and at sea.

Samso has attracted global attention for its accomplishments. Soren Hermansen, 55, and his wife, Malene Lunden, 49, worked for years to develop the program on the island and now have created an institute, theSamso Energy Academy, to spread their story and methods to international visitors.

The Maine islanders, along with students from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, had traveled to Samso to attend the academy and hear the Danes’ advice. If all went well, each islander would go home with a team of students dedicated to solving an energy problem using ideas borrowed from Samso.

Beyond that, the planners hoped, new Maine island projects could become templates for broader adoption of renewable energy. Because of their particular geography, islands often lack the resources and infrastructures to meet their own needs. Fuel, like other necessities, is often imported — sometimes with great difficulty — and electric grids, when they even exist, are often underdeveloped or out of date, all of which leads to higher prices and less reliable service. With residents open to cheaper and better alternatives, islands are becoming seedbeds of innovation, living labs in which to test and refine technologies and approaches that are too new or expensive to establish on a mainland. And their small size makes the systems easier to manage and analyze.

Denmark is also studying the use of renewables on Bornholm, an even more remote island than Samso, in the Baltic Sea, said Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the country’s minister of climate, energy and building. The Carbon War Room, the nonprofit organization started by the Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson, and NRG Energy, an independent power producer, are experimenting with solar, wind and geothermal sources to replace diesel in the Caribbean. And the Alaska Energy Authority has awarded several renewable energy innovation grants to offshore communities.

Suzanne MacDonald, the community energy director at the Island Institute in Rockland, which is helping oversee the Mainers’ Denmark program, argues that such projects can be useful test cases. But, she added, they work only in places where people want to use the technologies and can organize and lead the effort.

“We can’t just put steel in the ground and technology on the grid,” she said, “unless people are a part of the process.”

For Ms. Chioffi, seeing how the people of Samso had come to accept new technologies had particular significance. In 2009, the State of Maine designated a patch of ocean off Monhegan’s coast that is part of the state’s lobstering grounds as a test site to study renewable energy development, and plans were finally moving ahead for a long-term, public-private demonstration project that would place two turbines there. There are not yet any full-scale offshore wind farms in the United States — projects like Cape Wind near Nantucket have been delayed by legal and financial challenges — so the Mainers were eager for a rare chance to see one up close.

It was still dark as the group boarded the Ocean Cat, a former whale-watching boat, outfitted with a kitchen, black leather seating and a large television screen. Willy Mortensen, the captain, started making coffee and chatting with the visitors. He and his mate are on call to ferry repairmen to the wind farm, which starts about 2.2 miles from Samso’s coast. That’s what they were doing on that damp morning, with the Mainers tagging along.

The repair crew often works for 12 hours on a visit, so the captain passes the time watching episodes of “Deadliest Catch.” Mr. Mortensen said: “There’s a lot of trouble with the turbines. You’re repairing and repairing and repairing. By the time you get one fixed, the next one doesn’t work.”

Indeed, when Mr. Mortensen nudged the bow of the boat through the heaving waters to settle near turbine No. 6, another stood idle, victim of a cracked bearing that would require a special crane boat to fix. As the workmen put on harnesses and climbed off the bucking deck to a small platform encircling the steel tower, Ms. Chioffi craned her neck to look at the machine looming overhead, its long white blades temporarily stilled in the cold, gray morning air.

“Does seeing these give you more of a sense of the reality?” asked Sam Saltonstall, a retired Maine schoolteacher who now lives on Peaks Island, near Portland.

“Yeah,” she said softly, stunned by how big they were. “But the ones they’re talking about putting up are twice as high as that.”

Coffee Diplomacy

One sunny afternoon during their weekslong stay on Samso, the five Maine islanders and about 15 students rode on bikes with Mr. Hermansen to an open field. Huge, plastic-encased bales of hay sat alongside a large plot of a dense, tufted plant called elephant grass. On the island, many private houses and public buildings connect to central heating plants established as part of the energy project. The heating plants burn hay to heat water, which then circulates through underground pipes to radiators and heat exchangers for warmth and hot water. But the plant near the academy is experimenting with elephant grass as a new source of biomass, Mr. Hermansen told the group, because it grows faster and has a higher energy content than hay.

“We are still looking for the elephants,” Mr. Hermansen joked of the dense field.

Part of the appeal of using the biomass is that even with low oil prices it is cheap — about one-eighth the cost of oil, which is heavily taxed in Denmark, he said. But as with some of the other renewable technologies in use on Samso, the system is not so easily replicated elsewhere. The island has open, fertile land and ground soft enough to bury the hot-water pipes. Maine’s flinty landscapes are not so accommodating. Mr. Hermansen and Ms. Lunden acknowledge as much, but argue that specific natural resources and technologies are irrelevant to developing a green community without an appeal to people’s direct and practical self-interest.

“I’m not on a mission of saving the polar bears in the Arctic or changing the climate — I am on a mission of saying it is not good for us to be depending on imported fossil fuels,” Mr. Hermansen said. “It’s better to be in control and produce your own energy, and you can do that with green technology. So it’s actually more of a practical thing, like a farmer getting a new combine harvester.”

Mr. Hermansen and his wife were the project’s catalyzing figures. Mr. Hermansen, who helped prepare the island’s winning proposal, grew up on a farm on Samso, but left at age 15 to attend high school on the mainland. He spent 10 years away, working on fishing boats in Norway, farming in New Zealand and teaching in a democracy-building project in Lithuania. He moved back to the island and took over his father’s farm for a time, meeting Ms. Lunden, a photographer with a background in group dynamics and leadership training, there in 1984.

When the energy project came along, Mr. Hermansen was the obvious candidate to run it. “He can talk to everybody,” said Charlotte Villadsen, who runs a campground near the energy academy. “He’s very good at analyzing, ‘How should I present it to this group, and how should I present it to that group.’ ” Plumbers were worried about losing business if people got rid of their oil burners; Mr. Hermansen took them out for beers, Ms. Villadsen said and explained that if they learned how to install and service the new heat pumps they could move into that business. Much of the 44-square-mile island is devoted to agriculture, and to the farmers he pointed out that selling hay to the collective heating plants would provide a new income stream. Now one-quarter of Samso’s hay goes to heating.

While the islanders — there are 3,800 of them — had a strong tradition of collaboration developed over centuries of collective farming practices, it was nonetheless tough to get everyone behind all the new green projects. One breakthrough was a government energy-efficiency program that served as an entry to selling the whole enterprise, Mr. Hermansen said. The program gave grants for updating old houses; the couple approached the older residents who often owned the eligible properties, meeting over coffee and cookies in their homes to help them figure out how to qualify for the money.

“I drank so much coffee I was practically galvanized inside,” Mr. Hermansen said, laughing. But, once on board, those residents served as ambassadors for the larger self-sustaining green energy plan, spreading the word to their children and grandchildren.

Now, it seems, people from all across the island are participating. Many residents who live too far from the biomass heating plants have their own sustainable sources of warmth, including in-ground heat pumps and heavily insulated wood stoves that look almost like pizza ovens. At the municipal government headquarters, a large solar array on a canopy over the parking lot feeds the building as well as charging stations for a fleet of city-owned electric Citroëns. Countryside rooftops sparkle with solar panels, for which residents receive incentives; some have smart appliances that allow them to time washing clothes and dishes to the hours of cheapest power to cut their bills further.

Even the golf club is part of the program: Members carry hand weeders on the links and pry up errant plants, reducing the need for herbicides, and sheep graze to keep tall grasses in check. Since the members can also arrange to buy the meat, said Jesper Roug Kristensen, a golf club member who works at the energy academy, “you can eat the golf course.”

It has taken $80 million in investment, about 20 percent from government subsidies, to turn the island into a renewable-energy community, Mr. Hermansen estimates. But in the end, the island’s accomplishments seem to stem not so much from government policies and subsidies as from Mr. Hermansen’s ability to show people how the changes could benefit them. The wind turbines, for instance, faced opposition from residents who said the modern machines would ruin the charm of their villages. So the planners moved some turbines from the most sensitive areas, but also added to their appeal by allowing locals to buy shares in the projects.

Ole Kaempe, a teacher who can see the turbine he and his wife invested in from between the rows of wine grapes near his farmhouse, said that the income made the low mechanical hum sound better. “Otherwise it would be noise,” he said, “but now, it’s beautiful music.”

An Imperfect Model

Samso’s energy independence suggests that Denmark’s aggressive goal of becoming fossil-fuel free by 2050 is feasible, said Mr. Petersen, the energy minister. “We need front-runners,” he said, “and they are just that.” The country as a whole is well on its way: Last year, Denmark drew almost 40 percent of its electricity from wind, up from 33 percent the year before. Over 60 percent of Danish houses get their heat from central sources, like Samso’s, that are already using renewables or can be easily converted, Mr. Petersen said. The hardest challenge, he said, is ridding its transport system of fossil fuels, so he is looking to Samso for ideas. “I hope that they can crack that nut first.”


To that end, the island is promoting the use of electric vehicles and plans to test using gas from decomposing waste as fuel for a new ferry set to arrive next month. Yet while the national government is expecting useful results from Samso’s efforts, there are signs that its consensus and momentum could flag. Mr. Hermansen, who says he is on the road about 100 days a year promoting the island’s story, is beginning to talk of doing other things. The academy is working with islands in Europe and Japan that are adapting Samso’s approaches, and he mused that he might shift more of his time to creating partnerships like those.

And although many residents express pride in the island’s green image, others point to shortcomings. It still relies on fossil fuels when the wind does not blow or the heating plants break down. Only 10 to 15 percent of the population has invested in the wind farm production, and electricity bills have stayed high, in part because of Danish tax and energy policies.

Building support for the projects based on financial self-interest can have a downside when the economics shift. At an evening reception at the end of the Mainers’ program, Jorgen Tranberg, a farmer who is chairman of the consortium that manages the offshore turbines, said that his investments had fizzled because of falling prices for wind power and lower-than-expected output.

Samso’s wind farms produce about 105,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year, of which roughly 80,000 are exported. Although the island earned a set rate for the first 10 years of production, it now gets a market rate that is lower in part because developers in Denmark and throughout the region have built so many wind turbines, cutting Samso’s revenue from approximately $6.4 million a year to about $3.8 million.

That may be good for Denmark, but not so good for Samso’s investors.

“In 10 years I don’t think there will be wind turbines on Samso,” Mr. Tranberg said. The aging equipment will need replacement one day, and new models are becoming ever larger as the wind industry seeks to lower costs by maximizing power production. It was so difficult to overcome concerns about noise and intruding on a bucolic landscape with the smaller turbines, Mr. Tranberg said, that he did not believe Samsingers would approve the bigger ones.

As the guests celebrated over hors d’oeuvres and wine, Mr. Tranberg added that he had been spending too much of his time on turbine repairs and renegotiating an unsatisfactory service arrangement. “The last three months it’s three emails a week with bad things about the turbines,” he said. Comparing that experience with the more cheerful message the Mainers were learning at the academy, he added: “That’s another world than Soren and Malene here.”

Bringing Samso Home

Before the event that last night at the academy, Mr. Hermansen handed large sheets of paper for the Maine islanders and students to list their lingering questions and concerns. The Americans were skeptical that they could replicate the Samso experience back home, where clean-energy policies and subsidies are neither as consistent nor as strong as in Denmark. “How do we transfer success under the Danish regulatory structure to projects in the U.S.?” read one. Another wondered, “How to translate-encourage Danish energy conservation pragmatism/culture to American ‘comfort’ culture.”

In the months since, the islanders and their student partners have started to answer those questions in different ways, still convinced that conservation and renewables are better energy solutions than fossil fuels, despite the falling price of oil.

On Peaks Island, which has more than 900 year-round residents, Mr. Saltonstall is working on a plan to decrease dependence on heating oil and propane and increase energy efficiency in residences and at the elementary school, which spent roughly $800 per student on fuel last year.

On Vinalhaven, a Maine island with a year-round population of almost 1,200, Patrick Trainor, a retired math teacher, and his partners are designing a solar field to complement an existing small land-based wind farm. The three turbines are a source of great pride to many island residents — though they are also the subject of a lawsuit — and Mr. Trainor is talking of forming an energy academy there.

On tiny Monhegan, the year-round residents are focused on Maine Aqua Ventus, a wind project with public and private financing that may arrive near their shores whether they want it or not. Conceived as a demonstration of the potential for offshore wind, it would put two enormous turbines — 300-foot towers atop 30-foot platforms, as opposed to the roughly 200-foot machines near Samso — in a pristine section of the Atlantic Ocean. Some residents say they like the idea of potential benefits of the farm, including better broadband service and access to central Maine’s grid, which would relieve them of the burden of running and maintaining their own system. But they also worry that it could harm tourism and lobstering, as well as birds and marine life.

Ms. Chioffi’s project is intended to help Monhegan work through those questions by borrowing engagement strategies from Mr. Hermansen and Ms. Lunden. So far, the approach is having some effect. When the Danish couple visited Monhegan in October, most island residents showed up for a discussion, and were still talking about it along the dirt roads the next day.

For Ms. Chioffi, that alone is a kind of success and, she hopes, the beginning of a process that could finally help her island inch closer to something like Samso. Seeing the offshore farm in Denmark allayed some worries — a bird adjusted its flight path that morning to avoid the spinning blades — but made clear just how big the turbines would be. But even if Monhegan is not the best place for the Aqua Ventus wind farm, she said, it has already had one benefit: “The thing that it did for Monhegan was it got people talking about renewable energy again.”

Correction: January 25, 2015 


An article last Sunday about how the Danish island Samso achieved renewable energy independence misstated the amount of electricity produced and exported by Samso’s wind farms. They produce 105,000 megawatt-hours, not 105, and export 80,000 megawatt-hours, not 80.


Posted in clean energy, Energy production, wind power

Koch Brother Wages 12-Year Fight Over Wind Farm


The New York Times

October 22, 2013


OSTERVILLE, Mass. — If the vast wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound is ever built, William I. Koch will have a spectacular view of it.

Of course, that is the last thing he wants. Mr. Koch, a billionaire industrialist who made his fortune in fossil fuels and whose better-known brothers underwrite conservative political causes, has been fighting the wind farm, called Cape Wind, for more than a decade, donating about $5 million and leading an adversarial group against it. He believes that Cape Wind’s 130 industrial turbines would not only create what he calls “visual pollution” but also increase the cost of electricity for everyone.

Now, as if placing a bet on the outcome of the battle, Mr. Koch, 73, who has owned an exclusive summer compound here for years, has acquired an even grander one — Rachel Mellon’s 26-acre waterfront estate in the gated community of Oyster Harbors, for $19.5 million. He has also bought the nearby 12-plus-acre Dupont estate. All of this adds up to a prime perch over Nantucket Sound.

“I love the area,” Mr. Koch said in an e-mail. “The ability to acquire a special property where I can create a family compound for my children and extended family was and is very meaningful to me.” (His current home, in the same gated community, is on the market for $15 million.)

At one time, Cape Wind — which would produce 75 percent of the power for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket — was expected to be the first offshore wind farm in the country, and supporters hoped it would serve as a catalyst for other offshore wind projects like those that ring Europe. But after more than a dozen years, the $2.6 billion proposal remains on the drawing board, thanks in large part to theAlliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of which Mr. Koch is chairman.

Still, Jim Gordon, Cape Wind’s developer, who has spent $70 million of his own money on the project since 2001, vows that it will go forward. He said that he would qualify for certain federal tax credits by the end of the year and that the necessary financing would be in place, but he declined to disclose details, saying he did not want to give Mr. Koch a “road map” of his plans.

“This is a very sophisticated adversary,” Mr. Gordon said. “Koch has already spent a decade trying to push us off the path toward a better energy future.”

The two men have circled each other for a decade in an escalating test of wills. Mr. Gordon has tried unsuccessfully to enlist Mr. Koch, who once financed green energy plants, in his cause; Mr. Koch has successfully delayed Cape Wind for years by tying it up in court. A few lawsuits, some of them backed by the Nantucket Sound alliance, remain to be settled.

Audra Parker, chief executive of the alliance, is skeptical that Mr. Gordon can move ahead. His plans, she said, are “built on a house of cards.”

Mr. Gordon, for his part, contends that Mr. Koch “lives in a billionaire bubble” and that his efforts to block Cape Wind are self-defeating because climate change is already assaulting Cape Cod.

“Their beach is eroding, houses are falling into the sea, the ocean is getting warmer, lobsters are migrating away,” Mr. Gordon said in an interview in his Boston office. “It’s just sad that somebody who has the means to spend millions of dollars can hold something up that’s going to produce a lot of benefits for Massachusetts and this region.”

Mr. Koch is not the only opponent of Cape Wind. The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, whose Hyannis family compound also looked out on Nantucket Sound, opposed the project too, as do many fishermen and business owners on the Cape who worry it will hurt their livelihoods. Hundreds of people have made donations to the alliance; Mr. Koch’s $5 million in contributions account for only part of the $30 million raised.

But he is one of the few wealthy homeowners here who has taken a public role in the fight. And his ties to the fossil-fuel industry, and the fact that he is a Koch brother, make him a convenient target for pro-wind supporters.

Major environmental groups support the wind farm as a necessary step toward reducing carbon emissions, and they are furious with Mr. Koch. But when he was warned last year that environmentalists were going to start attacking him and try to stop his other projects, he said he welcomed the fight.

“The environmentalists are already after me,” he told CommonWealth magazine in April. “I’ve had the Turkish government after me, I’ve had the I.R.S. after me and I’ve had a $50-billion-a-year corporation after me. I’ve had the Turkish mafia after me, so bring it on, baby.”

Combative, flamboyant and litigious, Mr. Koch does not shy away from public scrapes. He has been involved in dozens of lawsuits over the years, including a tangled case against his own brothers that went on for two decades and that Forbes called “perhaps the nastiest family feud in American business history.”

Like his brothers David and Charles, who own Koch Industries Inc., Bill Koch is a billionaire, though not on the same order of magnitude. Forbes listed him in September as the 122nd richest person in the United States, with a net worth of $3.8 billion; his brothers are tied for fourth, with a net worth of $36 billion each.

David and Charles Koch, who are more conservative, use their money to promote political movements like the Tea Party, to back a libertarian social agenda and to protect their extensive fossil fuel holdings; Bill spends his on an array of passions, including sailing (he won the America’s Cup in 1992) and collecting wine, art (a wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is named for him) and Western memorabilia (he bought a ghost town in Colorado and is converting it into an authentic frontier settlement).

But Bill Koch, who founded Oxbow, a fossil-fuel-based company, three decades ago, has also been stepping up his political donations. He is spending millions to beat back environmental regulations and giving more than ever to like-minded politicians. He told CommonWealth magazine that he wanted to help elect people “who understand how foolhardy alternative energy is.”

His political contributions are generally less ideological than those of his brothers and are focused chiefly on advancing his business interests. Last year, Oxbow donated its largest amount ever, $4.35 million, to so-called super political action committees, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Mr. Koch has donated to both Democrats and Republicans; the determining factor, he said, is whether they support policies that will benefit Oxbow. Recently, most of his recipients have been Republicans, including many House leaders who are seeking re-election next year.

Some say his protection of his fossil fuel interests goes hand-in-hand with his opposition to Cape Wind.

“No renewable energy resource holds as much potential as offshore wind to displace many, many, many gigawatts of dirty, carbon-intensive resources,” said Sue Reid, vice president and director of the Massachusetts office of the Conservation Law Foundation, which supports Cape Wind.

Mr. Koch has said that the most persuasive arguments against Cape Wind are economic, arguing that the project relies on government subsidies that could vanish tomorrow and that it would raise the cost of electricity, not lower it.

That point was bolstered last month by news that the biggest utilities in Massachusetts had signed contracts to buy land-based wind power from Maine and New Hampshire for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour; Cape Wind, by comparison, has contracts with those same utilities to start at 19 cents per kilowatt-hour, with built-in escalation clauses of 3.5 percent a year. Ms. Parker of the Nantucket Sound alliance called this news “the death knell for Cape Wind.”

But Mr. Gordon, the Cape Wind developer, said that his offshore turbines would produce power more consistently, at peak demand, than those in Maine and New Hampshire, and that he would be delivering power reliably to “the fastest-growing electric load demand center in New England.”

And, he said, he was confident that Cape Wind would one day be up and running.

Mr. Koch was just as certain that it would never be built. “I am equally confident,” he said in his e-mail, “that the project’s lack of merit will result in its demise.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 25, 2013

A headline and a subheading on Wednesday about the billionaire industrialist William I. Koch’s fight against a vast wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound referred incompletely in some editions to the area for which the farm would provide power. As the article noted, it is Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket — not just Nantucket.


Posted in clean energy, Energy production, wind power

What really toppled Cape Wind’s plans for Nantucket Sound

With the ambitious wind project seemingly dead, a look back at what went wrong.

Boston Globe magazine

In the end it was about money and politics, as are so many things in Massachusetts. But it was not Koch cash or Kennedy pique that may have killed a commercial offshore wind plant in Nantucket Sound. It was the hubris of Cape Wind’s developers themselves.

Almost 14 years after Cape Wind Associates unveiled plans to erect 130 wind turbines across 24 square miles of pristine Horseshoe Shoal, Jim Gordon and his investors seem to have run out of time, money, and political capital. The decision by NStar and National Grid to walk away after Cape Wind missed a December 31 contract deadline appears to leave Cape Wind “dead in the water,” as Gordon’s nemesis, Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, so poetically put it.

Gordon blamed the collapse of what would have been the first offshore wind facility in the United States on litigious obstructionists financed by Bill Koch, the conservative scion of his family’s oil refining fortune, and other wealthy property owners protective of their ocean views. Then, without apparent irony, he promptly lashed out at the utilities that abandoned him, essentially claiming the relentless legal battle he has been whining about for more than a decade was an unanticipated disaster akin to an act of God.

The truth is, Gordon simply could not deliver. He never won the lasting support of the people of the Cape and Islands whose homes bear no resemblance to Koch’s Oyster Harbors manse or the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port compound. The Town of Barnstable opposed him. So did a Wampanoag tribe. Among the legal challenges the project has faced was a suit by struggling fishermen from Martha’s Vineyard who argued that the massive wind plant threatened their livelihood. (The fishermen withdrew their lawsuit only when they found themselves unable to pay their lawyers and Cape Wind offered them an undisclosed settlement.) Fifty-nine percent of respondents to a Cape Cod Times online poll in January pronounced themselves “happy” that Cape Wind looks doomed.

Yet, from the outset, Gordon has cloaked himself in environmental virtue and cast any and all critics as defenders of “dirty energy.” To doubt the merits of this particular project was to oppose renewable energy itself. To object to this specific site was to reject offshore wind power entirely. To express safety concerns — as regional airports and ferry operators who serve the mainland and the Islands did — was to brand yourself a dupe of the fossil-fuel lobby. To want to protect the aesthetic beauty of Nantucket Sound was to cast your lot with climate change deniers.

There was no middle ground for Gordon, who put Koch in the role of big-oil bogeyman but who staked his claim to those federal waters off Massachusetts without a competitive bidding process.

Charlie Baker was not wrong when he characterized Cape Wind as a “sweetheart deal” during his unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. I suspect his view hasn’t changed much now that he has claimed that corner office in the State House and has suggested he won’t get involved in the contract dispute.

Demonizing his critics worked for Gordon for more than a decade, but in the end the NIMBY charge lost its sting when the public recognized Cape Wind as a classic bait and switch. Developers promised cheap, clean energy, and then planned to sell 77.5 percent of the power they were going to produce to NStar and National Grid for some two times the average cost of power generated by US suppliers. The contracted price of 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour was slated to rise 3.5 percent every year of the 15-year contract.

The developers dangled the prospect of good manufacturing jobs but then went to the German company Siemens to buy the turbines and the offshore transformer and to contract for maintenance services.

They touted their ability to attract private investment but then failed to secure all the necessary financing for the $2.5 billion project or to nail down purchase contracts for the final 22.5 percent of the power they planned to produce. (They had less trouble tapping public money, winning subsidies, tax breaks, and conditional commitment of a $150 million loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy.)

With the election of Baker last fall, Cape Wind lost the influence of Deval Patrick, who had pressured NStar, now part of Northeast Utilities, to buy power from Cape Wind when the two utilities needed the state’s approval for their 2012 merger. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe had signed on to represent Cape Wind opponents in their appeal of a federal court ruling that rejected their argument that Massachusetts had discriminated against out-of-state power companies by forcing NStar to buy more expensive power from Cape Wind.

Cape Wind might be dead, but prospects for developing wind power off the Massachusetts coast are not. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that enough energy to power 1.4 million homes could be produced by wind turbines erected in the Atlantic Ocean across 742,000 acres well south of Martha’s Vineyard. Unlike Cape Wind, those leases are subject to a competitive bidding process.

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LEADING EDGE – Denmark supplies three out of four of the worlds offshore wind turbines, and it’s on track to be free of fossil fuels by 2050

An informative article by Paul Rauber from the monthly Sierra Club magazine. It details the state of affairs of wind power in Denmark.

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SAFE continues to push for wind onshore and offshore. New information available from NWF


The Atlantic coastline is at the epicenter of America’s energy and environmental challenges, with state leaders currently facing critical decisions to meet the region’s growing energy demands and protect our communities and wildlife from the impacts of climate change. The cities, metropolitan areas, and sprawling suburbs that stretch along the East Coast have a massive, pollution-free energy source ready to meet these challenges –– offshore wind.

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Posted in clean energy, wind power