Congress Investigates Another Green Venture

Congress Investigates Another Green Venture

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Consumer resistance and pesky Congressional oversight are roiling President Obama’s green agenda. Cape Wind, the 25 square mile wind turbine farm slated for Nantucket Sound, is the latest venture to attract a House inquiry, spearheaded in this instance by two Republican Representatives, Darrell Issa and John Mica. The chairs of the House Oversight and Transportation Committees, respectively, have launched a probe into the FAA’a 2010 approval of the mega-project, which is likely to interfere with navigational radar and could prove a hazard to the region’s low-flying aircraft.

Cape Wind opponents have uncovered correspondence suggesting that political pressure may have trumped safety concerns in granting the go-ahead, which has since been overturned by an appeals court. Several emails among FAA employees reviewing the vast undertaking acknowledged its political importance; one message sent by an FAA manager said “It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”

The investigation was encouraged by Cliff Stearns, the Florida Representative who led Congress’ investigation into the Solyndra bankruptcy. He accuses the White House of pushing forward green projects without “conducting due diligence that could call into question their viability or value.” The White House has denied wrong-doing and has accused Stearns of wasting taxpayer money.

But backing numerous green energy projects that have failed – including Solyndra — is certainly a greater waste of taxpayer funds. Consumers – and voters – have a right to know the costs of Mr. Obama’s green vision. While the president presses forward with his goal that 80 percent of our power derive from renewables by 2035, consumers are figuring out that the plan could boost electricity costs by 36 to 60 percent, according to a Heritage Foundation study. While wind and sun energy appeal to those who imagine such sources “free” and non-polluting, the reality is quite different.

In the case of Cape Wind, which would be the first offshore wind farm built in the U.S., the cost of power generated will be high and there’s every indication that the environment will be damaged. Though the developer has not been able to sell the project’s entire future output, the contracts in place will ladle an extra $3 to $4 billion onto Massachusetts ratepayers. The per kilowatt hour cost of electricity will run from 20.7 cents to nearly 35 cents over the life of the 15-year contract. Today, power costs about 8 cents, and declining natural gas prices should keep it in that ballpark. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, in explaining its approval, said “The power from this contract is expensive in light of today’s energy prices. It may also be expensive in light of forecasted energy prices…” To put it mildly.

Such a tax on local businesses and families was approved through the passage of the 2008 Green Communities Act, a Massachusetts law described by some as the “Cape Wind Sweetheart Deal Act,” which permits utilities to pass the high cost of renewable energy onto customers – but only for projects built in Massachusetts or nearby offshore.

When the project got rolling – a long 11 years ago – public support for the wind farm was high-- in 2006 some 81 percent of state voters favored construction. More recently, support has dropped as people have learned the potential impact on their electricity bill. 

Local businesses are especially alarmed. An organization called Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) say that long-term electricity contracts “negotiated in back rooms, have left consumers and employers stuck with a $3 billion bill for power from Cape Wind.” They charge that three-quarters of all the renewables contracts have not been negotiated through competitive bidding “at a cost some three times that of market-based renewable power.” They point out that electricity prices in the state are already among the highest in the nation and say the expensive rates are one reason Massachusetts has fallen to 28 in CNBC’s ranking of the best states for business.

Ironically, the Obama administration has waffled on the Cape Wind project. The Interior Department approved the multi-billion venture in 2010, but then last year the Department of Energy denied a $2 billion loan guarantee for the project, despite Obama’s commitment to a “major new initiative to accelerate the development of clean, offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast.” 

Cape Wind’s critics ascribed the unusual turndown to poor economics, concerns that the 130 turbines would slaughter migrating birds or ruin important fisheries, sensitivity to Native American opposition or to other problems. Political junkies, though, said Mr. Obama was repaying a debt. The late Ted Kennedy was an early and critical supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries. The famed environmentalist was also an adamant opponent of Cape Wind. Why? Because the forty-story turbines were literally in his Hyannis back yard.

After more than two decades on Wall Street as a top-ranked research analyst, Liz Peek became a columnist and political analyst. Aside from The Fiscal Times, she writes for, The New York Sun and Women on the Web.