Thursday, May 13, 2010

R.I. Senate committee delays vote on wind-farm special exemption bill

Providence Journal

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, May 14, 2010

By Alex Kuffner

Journal Staff Writer

A state Senate committee has again postponed voting on legislation that would benefit an offshore wind developer as the panel awaits amendments to the controversial bill.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture was set to vote Thursday on legislation that would allow Deepwater Wind LLC to enter into an agreement for the sale of electricity from its proposed eight-turbine wind farm near Block Island without first getting approval from the state Public Utilities Commission. It is the second delay for a decision on the bill after the cancellation of a vote Tuesday. No new date has been scheduled.

During the committee meeting Tuesday, its chairwoman, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said she was awaiting changes to the bill that were made after a hearing last week in which a host of individuals and groups questioned why the General Assembly would allow a private company to avoid review by the PUC and, instead, place consideration of a long-term power-purchase agreement in the hands of four other state agencies.

At another hearing before the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources later on Tuesday, Governor Carcieri, a supporter of the legislation, said that possible amendments being discussed include the addition of an appeal process.

The legislation was proposed after the PUC voted in March to reject a 20-year contract between Deepwater and National Grid, the state’s main electricity utility, with the panel’s three members all concluding that the starting price of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour was not “commercially reasonable.” The current price for power from conventional sources is 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Deepwater did not appeal the decision — a potentially lengthy endeavor — because it needs a contract in place soon to place orders for its turbines and qualify for federal tax credits that will expire at the end of the year. Instead, the company is seeking to circumvent the PUC altogether.

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a candidate to replace Carcieri in the governor’s office, has supported the PUC and objected to the legislation. So has the Conservation Law Foundation, which backs Deepwater’s wind farm but is against any change in the regulatory process to benefit a single company.

“[The legislation] provides no criteria for review of the contract between [National] Grid and Deepwater; no mechanism for translating realized cost savings into rates; no evidentiary hearings; no appeal; and creates only the appearance of process by suggesting that the contract would have to be approved by four administrative agency heads,” Tricia Jedele, director of CLF’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center, wrote in a May 12 letter to House and Senate members.

Also this week, government watchdogs Operation Clean Government and Common Cause Rhode Island came out in opposition to the bill.

“This bill is not a responsible reaction to an unfavorable decision of a regulatory agency,” Larry Valencia, president of Operation Clean Government said in a statement. “Creating public policy by subverting established processes is not healthy for democratic government.”

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