Utilities urge DPU to force wind developer’s hand

Say Avangrid shouldn’t be allowed to withdraw its pricing contract

EVERSOURCE, NATIONAL GRID, and Unitil are urging state regulators to require Avangrid to push ahead with its 1,200-megawatt Commonwealth Wind project even though the company says the price it would receive for the power is not enough to secure financing for the wind farm.

The move by the state’s utilities is the latest twist in a proceeding at the Department of Public Utilities that is threatening to derail, at least temporarily, the state’s fledgling offshore wind industry.

Avangrid submitted the winning bid for a 1,200-megawatt project in September 2021 and signed a power purchase agreement with the three utilities in May. The power purchase agreement, which sets the price the wind farm developer will be pai required the approval of the Department of Public Utilities and, as that process was nearing its final stages, Avangrid began lobbying to reopen the pricing negotiations.

The company said rising interest rates (the federal funds rate is currently 4.5 percent, up from .25 percent at the beginning of the year) inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the war in Ukraine (started in late February) had changed the financial calculus.

The agency’s commissioners ruled on November 4 that the pricing talks could not be reopened, and told Commonwealth Wind to either stick with its existing agreement or withdraw it and start from scratch. Avangrid eventually chose to withdraw, and last week the DPU asked participants in the process to weigh in with their opinions on the withdrawal.

Only two – the three utilities and Mayflower Wind, the other player in the current procurement process – offered their opinions.

Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil urged the DPU to deny Avangrid’s motion to dismiss.

“Commonwealth Wind negotiated and executed comprehensive purchase power agreements with the companies that are now before the department for approval following a full and fair adjudicatory process,” the three utilities said. “Approving the motion to dismiss at this very late stage would significantly undermine what to date has been a very successful process established in Massachusetts to encourage the development of offshore wind projects.”

Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell New Energies and Ocean Winds North America, initially sided with Commonwealth Wind on the need for some price relief. But after the DPU told the companies to stick with their existing contracts or withdraw, Mayflower decided to stick with its original contract while continuing to make the case for modifications.

In response to Commonwealth Wind’s move to withdraw, Mayflower Wind continued to push the same contradictory message – standing by its power purchase agreement while arguing changes are needed.

“Mayflower Wind is committed to working as a collaborative partner with all of the parties to this proceeding to help achieve the climate change priorities of the Commonwealth. To this end, Mayflower Wind continues to develop the Mayflower Wind Project consistent with the timelines set forth in its purchase power agreements,” the company said in its filing.

‘Notwithstanding the firm commitment expressed above, Mayflower Wind respectfully must nonetheless agree with much of the factual analysis underlying Commonwealth Wind’s conclusion, especially as Mayflower is subject to these same facts, pressures, and realities,” the wind developer said, pointing to commodity price increases and supply shortages

“These unprecedented global economic conditions could not have been reasonably foreseen by Mayflower Wind (or, for that matter, any other party to these proceedings), and impose significant economic hardship on the Mayflower Wind Project. Furthermore, the project and tax equity financing required for the delivery of Mayflower Wind Project, along with the cost of such financing, has changed dramatically and unexpectedly as interest rates have risen sharply, presenting significant challenges to the Mayflower Wind Project’s economics. Mayflower Wind is diligently working to develop and provide to the department a detailed third-party analysis on the impact of these unforeseen events on the financeability on the Mayflower Wind Project, as Mayflower Wind committed to do in its earlier filings with the department.”

Mayflower also said Commonwealth Wind’s motion to dismiss its contract had “materially disrupted” the procurement process and altered the “underlying assumptions” Mayflower used in putting together its bid.

“Accordingly, Mayflower Wind respectfully requests that the department allow time for coordinated meaningful discussion among all interested parties, before making a final decision on the Mayflower Wind purchase power agreements.

No other parties to the proceedings filed responses, including representatives of the Baker administration as well officials from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which represents electric ratepayers in the proceedings.

Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that wind farm developers shouldn’t be allowed to reopen contract negotiations after they have been concluded. “There’s no such thing as a do-over and there shouldn’t be,” Baker said.

At a press conference last week, Healey, who is about to take over as governor, noted she is a big proponent of offshore wind.

“I was very disappointed to see Commonwealth Wind back out of the deal,” she said.

Asked if the DPU should have allowed the parties to reopen the power purchase agreements and hike the price, Healey did not take sides even though her AG office is a party to the proceedings.

“That’s really for the DPU to decide,” she said. “Obviously we care a lot about wind. … It’s something we remain bullish on. Right now, that’s with the DPU.”

Avangrid spokesman Craig Gilvarg issued a statement that did not directly address the filing by Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil or what would happen if the DPU sided with the utilities.

“As AVANGRID made clear in its filing with the Department of Public Utilities on December 16, we are committed and focused on advancing Commonwealth Wind as expeditiously as possible so we can deliver on the project’s transformational economic investments, create thousands of jobs, and bring 1,200 megawatts of reliable, affordable power to the grid before 2030 to help Massachusetts meet its ambitious clean energy and climate goals,” the statement said. “The best path forward to deliver on that critical objective is through the state’s forthcoming 2023 offshore wind procurement, so that Avangrid can submit a revised bid that addresses the current, unprecedented economic factors facing Commonwealth Wind, position the project to secure the financing necessary to proceed to construction, and maintain the same urgent timeline to achieve commercial operations in 2028.”