Cape Wind to Assemble Turbines in New Bedford

(NECN: Peter Howe, New Bedford, Mass.) City leaders and Governor Deval L. Patrick were elated Wednesday afternoon to announce that Cape Wind would use a 20-acre site on the New Bedford waterfront to assemble its 130 wind turbines, assuming the controversy-plagued $2.5 billion project goes forward.

Patrick, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, and a passel of local elected officials came to the site off Blackmer Street in the port district to announce the plan to build a $35 million marine terminal that would be used by Cape Wind starting next year.

"This means jobs building the terminal, it means jobs building Cape Wind, it means jobs installing other offshore wind projects,'' Patrick said, estimating that it could be as many as 1,000 new jobs total for the economically struggling area. "It's time for us to get moving, and that' what this is all about.''

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said: "Our city, as you know, was the energy capital of the world during a time known as whaling, and we are now going to be one of the alternative energy capitals of the world.''

Patrick added, "It will be the first port facility in America specifically designed to support the delivery, assembly, and installation of offshore wind turbines here in our offshore waters, and all up and down the Atlantic coast.''

But, there are a lot of hitches. The city is hoping to get construction started before the end of the year but still doesn't own all the land it needs for the terminal. About nine acres needed for the site are controlled by Shuster Corp., a manufacturer of industrial and transportation ball bearings. Shuster spokesman Jim Cabot said:  "Shuster is excited about the possibility of revitalizing the New Bedford waterfront and look forward to working with the City and the Commonwealth as the project develops." Key issues for Shuster are making sure it gets a fair deal from the city and state for its land, and enough space for a possible future expansion of its plant.

Asked whether Shuster or other land owners might face eminent domain proceedings to seize their land and get the terminal built, Lang told NECN: "At this point, I am not looking for any business that's been established in the city of New Bedford to be moving ... We're hoping not to move anything or anybody.''

"We expect within a year from right now to be standing on this terminal. So we're going to work very, very quickly on it,'' Lang said.

The project will require marine and environmental permits because it involves building a 1,200-foot-long bulkhead wall and filling behind it with harbor dredgings.

Then there's all the controversy that still rages around Cape Wind -- including lawsuits galore and mounting opposition from business and consumer groups over the more than $500 million in cost premiums Massachusetts electric customers will have to pay to cover the above-market price of Cape Wind energy.

Lang said New Bedford hopes in time the terminal will attract other marine business including short sea shipping and ship repairs, but acknowledged, "In the short term, Cape Wind will be more or less the exclusive customer." What that means is assuming the state and city press ahead with construction of the the terminal, given the uncertainty around Cape Wind, there's a non-trivial risk the $35 million terminal would become a white elephant into which millions of state taxpayer dollars had been sunk.

Audra Parker, CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a leading group opposing Cape Wind, blasted the Patrick announcement as "an election season stunt" coming 13 days before he faces reelection. "The New Bedford site selection is further evidence that Cape Wind is rapidly evolving into another Big Dig - a money pit with no end in sight to taxpayer bailouts.  The development and rehabilitation of the New Bedford site would cost taxpayers upwards of $35 million. If the project is built, Cape Wind developers are asking for another estimated $600 million in federal stimulus money.''

With videographer Christopher D. Garvin

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