Gov candidates spar over Cape Wind
Gov. Deval Patrick stood steadfast and solitary in his support for Cape Wind in the face of withering attacks by the three candidates seeking to replace him in the corner office in the election season’s first full debate today.
“On balance, I am in favor of Cape Wind and strongly so,” Patrick said at the single-issue forum on energy sponsored by MassINC and hosted by Suffolk University. “We need to get serious about climate change and not just talking about it and wringing our hands about it.”
All three opponents – Republican Charles Baker, State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, running as an independent, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein –hammered Patrick for what they said was a lack of transparency in negotiating the contract and granting subsidies to Cape Wind. Patrick also came under fire as well for his perceived tunnel vision in supporting the 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound to the exclusion of alternative renewable energy sources.
“There’s lots of options out there, most of which are cheaper than Cape Wind,” said Baker, who continually hammered home his view that Cape Wind is more drag than engine for the state’s economy. “The only people for whom this is going to provide stability is (Cape Wind) investors.”
Stein, a staunch advocate of renewable energy who called ceasing our reliance on fossil fuels “the task of our generation,” insisted the proposed turbines are a bad deal in a bad place. She lambasted Patrick for accepting contributions from Cape Wind investors and National Grid executives, whose company negotiated a 15-year, $3 billion contract to purchase power at a cost to consumers of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour, among the highest energy costs in the nation.
The project “is clearly not delivering the most green energy for every dollar invested,” she said. Patrick acknowledged the contributions but said they came in only after he made his decisions on where he stood on Cape Wind.
Cahill said Patrick made a deal with Cape Wind at the expense of other options such as nuclear power and natural gas, both of which he claimed were cheaper and more readily available. He said the subsidies promised by the administration amounted to government choosing which businesses will succeed and which will fail and said such decisions are “best left to the market.”
“I don’t think we’re in a position to give any subsidies at all,” he said.
The 70-minute debate was the first forum to include all four candidates and it was a chance for them to expound on a single public policy issue that has ramifications locally, nationally and globally. The debate was keyed off a recent special issue of CommonWealth magazine dedicated to energy, the environment and a look at the impact a green industry would have on Massachusetts’ economy.
But while the theme was Cape Wind, the focus was Patrick. Baker used the forum to pound home his view that the economy needs more help than Cape Wind offers. He said the guarantee of 3.5 percent rate increases proposed in the contract, which he termed “a sweetheart deal,” would lead to maintaining Massachusetts’ standing as inhospitable to firm looking to do business in the state.
Patrick claimed the deal would result in about $1.25 more per month on the average National Grid user’s bill. He said customers were paying $20 more a month several years ago, when volatile gas prices triggered by global demand and unrest caused wild price fluctuations.
Cahill and Patrick had an exchange over the administration’s deal for tax credits with Evergreen Solar, which Cahill insisted is costing the state $68 million while Patrick said the number is about $21 million. Cahill charged Patrick is subsidizing the company’s move overseas after its announcement they would move some of the state’s production and jobs to China.
Patrick said the agreement called for an increase of 350 jobs, which he said the company far exceeded, and the announced plan would move just 150 jobs.
“If that happens, we’d still be ahead of the game,” Patrick said.
Stein tied the debate over clean energy to rising health costs, saying a reduced reliance on fossil fuels would have a positive impact on overall health and therefore cut costs in that area.
She said the state’s involvement in the Cape Wind project guaranteed the public would view it with a jaundiced eye.
“Big Wind could become the equal to the Big Dig,” she said.
Cahill claimed Patrick was impeding the relicensing of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, saying the process – which usually takes about 18 months – has dragged on for four years and Patrick has done little to save the jobs there. Patrick said his administration has concerns over elevated tritium levels – a nuclear waste byproduct – and wants assurances there are plans in place to deal with it.
There were some light moments in the largely civil debate. During a “lightning round” of questions. the candidates revealed the kinds of cars they and their family members owned. Cahill unapologetically said he drives a gas-guzzler by choice, while Patrick acknowledged he owns two Mercedes. Baker said he doesn’t drive much any more on the campaign trail but owns a reconditioned 1966 Mustang. Stein said she owns a Prius and her husband drives a Honda Civic.
Patrick Cahill said to laughter in the audience.
All four candidates said they believe climate change and global warming were real, but differed on the cause. Baker and Cahill said “not all” of global warming is caused by humans while Patrick said most of it is. Stein, again to laughter including her opponents, said “virtually all of it” is caused by humans.