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.


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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.

Full article:



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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.

Read more: 

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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.

Read more:

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Colorado Wind Power Rapidly Growing

A recent post in Daily Kos explains  how Xcel Energy has become a big proponent of wind power.

Colorado is learning how to integrate its significant wind turbine capacity with its electrical needs. Wind is intermittent power generation, which creates a systems operation challenge. Colorado has changed from believing that more than 10% of their electrical energy from wind would be impossible to now believing that they can reliably integrate very large percentage of wind and have demonstrated this with a 60% wind energy contribution on one day.

Here is an excellent article in MIT’s Technology Review.

Wind power is booming on the open plains of eastern Colorado. Travel seven miles north of the town of Limon on Highway 71 and then head east on County Road 3p, a swath of dusty gravel running alongside new power lines: within minutes you’ll be surrounded by towering wind turbines in rows stretching for miles.

Colorado has been quietly generating wind capacity, but have been fought by one of the largest energy corporations.

Before the forecasts were developed, Xcel Energy, which supplies much of Colorado’s power, ran ads opposing a proposal that it use renewable sources for a modest 10 percent of its power. It mailed flyers to its customers claiming that such a mandate would increase electricity costs by as much as $1.5 billion over 20 years.

The breakthrough was achieved by accurate wind predictions and therefore power output of the turbines. This is critical to a Systems Operator and you can’t commit to energy production on a given day if you can’t predict, with accuracy, what the instantaneous power output will be per turbine.

Xcel Energy has completely changed their tune and has become an advocate of wind energy.

It has installed more wind power than any other U.S. utility and supports a mandate for utilities to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources, saying it can easily handle much more than that.

Here is a quote from an excellent study on “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage..”

We find that 90% of hours are covered most cost-effectively by a system that generates from renewables 180% the electrical energy needed by load, and 99.9% of hours are covered by generating almost 290% of need. Only 9–72 h of storage were required to cover 99.9% of hours of load over four years. So much excess generation of renewables is a new idea, but it is not problematic or inefficient, any more than it is problematic to build a thermal power plant requiring fuel input at 250% of the electrical output, as we do today.At 2008 technology costs, 30% of hours is the lowest-cost mix we evaluated. At expected 2030 technology costs, the cost-minimum is 90% of hours met entirely by renewables. And 99.9% of hours, while not the cost-minimum, is lower in cost than today’s total cost of electricity.

Over-generation is cost-effective at 2030 technology costs even when all excess is spilled.

The study looked at the mid-Atlantic region of the US. The important conclusion is that geographically distributed wind and solar combined with overcapacity can produce very high percentages of required energy on a given day, and at a cost effective point.

The case for wind today is totally compelling. It’s the only source that can be deployed in units of gigawatts, and it’s competitive with fossil fuel in $ per KWh. We are now learning how to integrate wind to 90% plus energy contribution.

The challenge for this community is to make wind and solar deployment a major strategy for the US. That means getting Congress to support this. It currently takes 7 years to permit an offshore wind farm in Federal waters. This should be completely unacceptable. We are seeing major blockage of wind power deployment from influential individuals who just don’t like the inconvenience to their “viewshed”. We now know how to site wind for maximum efficiency and minimum impact to residents. We could acheive 90% or more of our stationary electrical power from wind and solar by 2030. We just need to will to do this.

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Energy Department Announces Offshore Wind Energy Projects

The Energy Department on May 7 announced the selection of three pioneering offshore wind demonstrations to receive up to $47 million each over the next four years to deploy innovative, grid-connected systems in federal and state waters by 2017. These projects—located off the coast of New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia—will help speed the deployment of more efficient offshore wind power technologies.

The three projects selected are aimed at deploying offshore wind installations in U.S. waters by 2017:

Fishermen’s Energy will install five 5-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. This project will utilize an innovative, U.S.-developed twisted jacket foundation that is simpler and less expensive to manufacture and install than traditional offshore wind foundations.

Principle Power will install five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately 18 miles off the coast of Coos Bay, Oregon. The U.S.-developed WindFloat semi-submersible floating foundation will be installed in water more than 1,000 feet deep, demonstrating an innovative solution for deep water wind turbine projects and lowering costs by simplifying installation and eliminating the need for highly specialized ships..

Dominion Virginia Power will install two 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines 26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, utilizing a U.S.-designed twisted jacket foundation. Dominion’s project will demonstrate installation, operation and maintenance methods for wind turbines located far from shore. Additionally, the Dominion project will install and test a hurricane-resilient design.

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Cape Wind Wins One Round in Court

In Cape Cod Online, Patrick Cassidy writes:

Seemingly as quickly as a new lawsuit was filed challenging Cape Wind another one has been beaten back.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., today denied a petition by opponents of the project appealing approval by the Federal Aviation Administration of the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

In its decision the court found that the circumstances surrounding concerns over the effect of the turbines on aeronautical radar had changed since an earlier “no-hazard” finding by the FAA was rejected by the court and that tests of a new radar system had addressed those concerns. In addition, the court found that the FAA was not required to perform or participate in an assessment of the environmental impacts of its no-hazard determination.

“The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the town of Barnstable and their financial backer-coal billionaire Bill Koch- have failed yet again in their continuing campaign to use the courts to delay the financing of Cape Wind,” the company’s spokeswoman Mark Rodgers wrote in a statement about the decision.

The Alliance, the town and several businesses and individuals, sued state officials, Cape Wind and NStar on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, claiming the project violates the U.S. Constitution.

There are still several legal challenges, consolidated into a single lawsuit in federal court, challenging the approval of the project by the U.S. Department of Interior.

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Wind industry can bring good jobs

In an op ed in the Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson looks at the opportunity to make New Bedford a center for wind turbine production, bringing as many as 70,000 jobs to the economically depressed city.

FOR NEW Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, offshore wind is “not just an industry with abstract benefits.’’ It’s a jobs creator.

The industry could support up to 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the North Atlantic region by 2030, with up to $14 billion-a-year’s worth of construction, operations, and maintenance, according to analysis released last month by the Department of Energy.

“These results are strongly based on the local sourcing assumptions. If more components and services were sourced locally, the numbers could increase by three to fourfold,” the analysis said. Read more.

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New Bedford Charging Ahead on Wind

As An Offshore Wind Hub, Can New Bedford Light The World Again?

By  May 20, 2013

A man with a sign reading "Build more wind!" attends the ground-breaking ceremony for the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A man with a sign reading “Build more wind!” attends the ground-breaking ceremony for the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — New Bedford was once known as the city that lit the world. Its whale oil could be found in candles and lamps across the country.

Those glory days are long gone. Now, the troubled city is trying to rekindle its old fame with an alternative form of energy: offshore wind.

This month, the state began construction on a $100 million purpose-built port to transport offshore wind equipment to sea. New Bedford is praying this will be its saving grace — bringing jobs and money into a long-struggling community.

For generations, water was New Bedford’s lifeblood, the source of its wealth. The water is still here, but the wealth is gone. Read more

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Falmouth Votes to Continue Support for Wind

According to the Associated Press: April 10, 2013. Very positive news.

BOSTON — A Cape Cod town that once considered its first wind turbine the crowning achievement of its climate protection plan came close to becoming the first community in the country to decide to tear its turbines down.

Falmouth’s Town Meeting voted down a measure Tuesday night that would have authorized borrowing $14 million to dismantle two turbines. Read more

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