Star and Northeast Utilities have agreed to purchase 129 MW from the Cape Wind offshore wind farm as a condition of the utilities' pending merger, according to a deal announced on Feb. 15 by Massachusetts officials.

The deal means the 486-MW offshore wind farm, more than a decade in the making, is closer to reality with more than 77% of its power under contract.

"Today's announcement represents a major step forward in making Massachusetts a leader in offshore wind power," says Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind.

Once the deal receives state regulatory approval in NStar's home state of Massachusetts and Northeast Utilities' home state of Connecticut, Cape Wind plans to begin financing the 130-turbine project. It will select a contractor this year and plans to begin construction in 2013, says Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.

Cape Wind is seeking prospects for its remaining output, "although our financing efforts do not depend upon it," Rodgers says.

National Grid previously agreed to purchase half the wind farm's output at a starting price of 18.7¢ per kWh. NStar and Cape Wind have not agreed on a price yet for the offshore wind under their proposed 15-year contract. The settlement also gives Massachusetts ratepayers a onetime $21-million credit and freezes rates for four years, according to a statement by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D).

The deal emerged after more than a year of resistance from NStar, the state's largest utility. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound opposes the deal, saying that ratepayers will balk at high energy bills when other forms of renewable energy are cheaper.

"It is anti-consumer, and it ought to be illegal," according to a statement by the alliance.