|William Koch owns a summer house in Osterville. (Bloomberg News Service)|
Wind farm foe gave $100,000 to aid GOP
A month ago, as the battle over a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound was being heard by state regulators, William I. Koch, the fossil fuel magnate and Cape Cod summer resident, donated $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association.
Koch, a longtime opponent of Cape Wind and cochairman of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, made the donation in part to support Republican Charles D. Baker, another Cape Wind opponent, in the race for governor.
“It’s no secret we oppose Cape Wind,’’ said Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for Koch at the Oxbow Group, the $4 billion fossil fuel conglomerate that Koch runs from his Florida home.
Baker has called the proposal a “sweetheart deal’’ among state officials, Cape Wind, and electricity provider National Grid. He has been aided in his campaign by more than $5 million in spending by the governors association.
Cape Wind, for its part, has financially supported Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat and avid supporter of the proposal. Two officials have made numerous direct contributions to the governor and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. They have not, however, made any recent contributions to the Democratic Governors Association, which has provided more than $3 million for ads produced by an outside group supporting Patrick.
Cape Wind president James S. Gordon has given a total of $2,500 to Patrick since 2005 and another $1,000 to Murray, according to campaign finance records. He has also given $10,500 to the Democratic State Committee, which is helping Patrick in his run for governor.
In addition, Mitchell H. Jacobs, Gordon’s partner at Energy Management Inc., Cape Wind’s developer, has given $1,500 to Patrick, $1,000 to Murray, and another $2,000 to the Democratic State Committee. He also donated $250 to Baker this year.
Still, Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, said Koch’s six-figure donation to the Republican Governors Association is evidence that his financial interest in fossil fuels is driving his fight against the wind energy proposal. “The public has a right to know that oil and coal money has been fueling the opposition’s misinformation campaign against an offshore wind farm,’’ Rodgers said.
But Goldstein said Koch’s opposition has nothing to do with his business interests. Instead, he said, it is based on Koch’s status as a summer homeowner in Osterville, his passion for sailing — Koch won the 1992 America’s Cup race — and his belief that the proposal is bad for ratepayers.
“Bill thinks it’s a boondoggle for Jim Gordon,’’ Goldstein said. “He wants to see the sound preserved, and he definitely has some homeowner interest.’’
In addition, Goldstein said Koch’s donation to the association was also meant to help Republican gubernatorial candidates across the country — including incumbent Rick Perry in Texas, and Meg Whitman in California, where Oxbow has significant business interests. Oxbow has more than 300 employees working at three facilities in Texas, for example. It conducts no operations in New England.
The battle over Cape Wind, potentially the nation’s first offshore wind farm, has raged for much of the last decade, pitting proponents of renewable energy against preservationists and some prominent Cape Cod homeowners, including Koch and the late Edward M. Kennedy.
The Department of Public Utilities held public hearings on the proposal in September and is expected to reach a decision by mid-November. If the agency approves the deal, which is projected to raise customers’ monthly electricity rates by about 2 percent, opponents will be able to appeal to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
In the meantime, both sides have pushed their respective causes in the political arena, making donations designed to influence the hotly contested race for governor and collectively spending about $4 million to lobby members of Congress.
Since the early 2000s, the Alliance and Cape Wind have each spent about $1.5 million dollars on their lobbying efforts. In addition, Oxbow, which is privately held, paid $1 million to a lobbying firm that worked against the Cape Wind proposal from 2005 to 2007, when Kennedy was seeking to kill it.
Federal records show that much of Oxbow’s $1 million was spent to directly influence the outcome of the wind farm debate. But they also show that the lobbying firm, US Strategies, worked on other issues, such as tax credits and other matters that Goldstein said might have included Oxbow’s international shipping interests.
Oxbow is a collection of more than two dozen companies with 15 locations across the United States and two dozen more spread out over five continents, according to Oxbow’s website. Its primary businesses are mining and the sale of coal, natural gas, and petroleum. It is also the world’s largest distributor of petroleum coke, a solid fuel that is a byproduct of the oil refining process.
Oxbow is unrelated to Koch Industries, the Wichita-based energy conglomerate owned by Koch’s two brothers, Charles and David, both of whom are prodigious funders of libertarian causes. Oxbow’s William Koch waged a bitter legal battle against his brothers during the 1980s and 1990s, contending he was cheated when he sold his stake in their company.
The Cape Wind proposal — which calls for 130 turbines, each 440 feet high, to be built over 24 square miles in Nantucket Sound — has also become an issue in the race between Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, James P. McKenna.
In August, Coakley garnered headlines when she urged the Department of Public Utilities to approve an agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid, after she negotiated a 10 percent reduction in the price of power from the turbines.
McKenna, for his part, has urged the agency to reject the deal, saying it will be too costly for ratepayers. He has criticized Coakley for accepting $4,800 in campaign contributions from Cape Wind’s Gordon during her unsuccessful campaign to fill Kennedy’s US Senate seat.
“Jim Gordon stands to personally profit greatly from Coakley’s continued political power,’’ McKenna said in a statement.
But campaign records show that Gordon hedged his bets, giving $4,800, the combined legal maximum in the primary and general elections, to both Coakley and US Representative Michael E. Capuano, another candidate in the Democratic primary.
Jacobs, Gordon’s business partner, gave $1,000 to Coakley.
Brian C. Mooney off the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Rezendes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.