A new group trying to rally opposition to Cape Wind is being run by the owner of an ice cream shop located on a quiet back road in Kingston, N.H., several towns over from the Massachusetts border.
Marc Brown says he founded the New England Ratepayers Association in February to help fight what he says are the false promises of alternative energy sources that rely on government subsidies and higher rates while cheaper sources of power are more readily available. He blanketed Cape Cod last week with 30,000 large, glossy postcards criticizing the proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound as being too expensive, unnecessary, and a threat to migratory birds.
The postcard mailing urges residents of the Cape to call the federal Department of Energy to lobby against a government loan guarantee Cape Wind is seeking for the project. The postcard also cites results from a poll of Massachusetts residents conducted for Brown by the University of New Hampshire. Brown says the poll indicates Bay State residents oppose Cape Wind by a margin of 46 to 41 percent when told about the project’s negative effects.
Brown acknowledges his electricity rates in New Hampshire won’t be directly affected by Cape Wind (77 percent of the wind farm’s power is under contract to National Grid and NStar in Massachusetts), but he said there will be a residual effect on businesses and families like his across the region.
“I did some research and realized it’s a boondoggle,” Brown says. “Any time you add more high-priced electricity to the grid, regardless of where you live, it affects the entire region’s grid. You’re talking about billions of dollars.”
A spokesman for Cape Wind said he suspects Brown’s group is merely a front for organized business interests that have continually tried to obstruct the project for more than a decade. “New Hampshire ratepayers aren’t buying any Cape Wind power,” said Mark Rodgers. “I think it’s just the latest example of a growing trend, which is secretive corporate interests hiding behind shells and front men and trying to have an outsized influence on public policy.”
Brown declined to disclose his sources of funding for the New England Ratepayers Association or reveal what salary he is being paid for running the group. Brown said he has asked the IRS to give the association tax exempt status as a social welfare group, which would allow the organization to raise funds for political advocacy without revealing the names of its donors.
“Like other groups, we don’t disclose our memberships,” he said. “Our support comes from our members, individuals and businesses throughout the region.”
Cape Wind officials say they expect to begin construction this year, a timetable that has spurred opponents and proponents of the project to step up their attacks. Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of some of the state’s most influential CEO’s, ran ads in May saying the project “does not make sense.” Meanwhile, supporters of the project have gone on the offensive, launching a website called Cape Wind Now to challenge opponents and push the project across the finish line.
Brown got his start in politics in 1990 interning for then-U.S. Rep. Bob Smith, a conservative New Hampshire lawmaker who also served a term in the Senate. After graduating from George Mason University with a degree in government administration and political science, Brown ran restaurants in Virginia. He moved back to his native New Hampshire in 2003 with his wife and three small children and bought the Memories Ice Cream stand, set on a small farm on a bucolic byway in Kingston. He continued to stay involved in conservative politics, becoming the director of the state’s chapter of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party-affiliated organization and an off-shoot of a political group formed by conservative financier and oil industry giant David Koch.
Brown says he left the group after becoming disenchanted with its direction. He said he developed the idea of the New England Ratepayers Association and made a pitch to several “business interests and individuals” who agreed to give him seed money. Brown says he has no connection to some of the monied interests publicly tied to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the chief opponent of Cape Wind.
The corporate records for the association filed with both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Secretary of State’s offices list Boston attorney Terence K. Ankner as the group’s agent. One of Ankner’s partners is Peter Horstmann, who initially represented John Donelan, one of the founders and a former research director for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Donelan was sued by Cape Wind after he sent out an email, purportedly from a Hyannis business called DT Converting Technologies, falsely claiming that the firm had backed out of a deal with Cape Wind. The case was eventually settled in 2006 for $15,000, which Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon donated to a local housing program.
Brown said he found Ankner through “a friend of a friend of a friend” and was not aware Ankner’s partner once represented someone from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
The association’s poll indicates 81 percent of Massachusetts residents initially support Cape Wind, a number that drops to 41 percent when respondents are given information about the cost and impact of the project.
“Any pollster will tell you that you can do that on any side of virtually any public policy issue,” Rodgers said. “By asking one-sided leading questions, you can cause a significant change in how people respond.”
But Brown said the poll shows how people think about Cape Wind after they learn about the backroom dealings and arm-twisting done to build support for the project. He points to the deals by National Grid and NStar to buy Cape Wind power at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour, nearly twice the price of the going rate of electricity. The NStar contract was signed as part of a deal to gain Patrick administration approval for a merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities of Connecticut. Brown said Cape Wind is a bad deal that will affect the entire region’s electricity users, including his ice cream shop.
“We use a lot of electricity in what we do,” said Brown. “Some of these policies are just plain bad for businesses like mine. There comes a point when you just have to ask, ‘When is enough enough?’”