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State approves Cape Wind deal with NStar

BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts regulators on Monday approved NStar's deal to buy substantial amounts of power from the Cape Wind offshore project.

NStar's agreement to buy 27.5 percent of the wind farm's power is similar to National Grid's agreement with Cape Wind to buy half its power, which the Department of Public Utilities approved in 2010. The $2.6 billion Cape Wind project still is seeking financing, and company officials said having two large power purchase deals in hand will give them a boost.

"Taken together, these two (contracts) provide Cape Wind with the critical mass to continue securing project financing," said Theodore Roosevelt IV, Cape Wind's financial adviser

The 130-turbine project in Nantucket Sound, proposed in 2001, is aiming to be the country's first offshore wind farm, and hopes to produce power by late 2015. It's backed by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, but staunchly opposed by critics who have filed pending lawsuits and argue its power is too costly. For instance, under its 15-year contract, NStar has agreed to buy Cape Wind's power for more than double what conventional energy is projected to cost during the same period.

"It's disappointing the state is willing to burden Massachusetts households and businesses with billions of dollars in extra utility costs for the sake of promoting an expensive and poorly sited project," said Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the project's chief opponent.

Critics also charge that NStar, which wasn't initially interested in buying Cape Wind power, agreed to the purchase under pressure from the Patrick administration, when its now-completed acquisition by Northeast Utilities was under Massachusetts review.

But NStar said it bought Cape Wind's power to ensure it had a diverse mix of renewable power sources to meet state mandates and as an investment in the state's clean energy future. The Department of Public Utilities has rejected arguments that the state was improperly involved in the contract negotiations.

The department said its analysis showed Cape Wind is worth the investment because of various benefits, including greenhouse gas reduction, the fact it creates a large power source near a busy coastline and enhanced grid reliability.

Sue Reid, of the pro-Cape Wind Conservation Law Foundation, said the Department of Public Utilities ruling again shows that the project's environmental and economic benefits are clear. "Today's decision is another giant step toward the finish line for Cape Wind," she said.