Thursday, May 13, 2010

Senate panel sets vote on Deepwater bill

Providence Business News

Published online May 12, 2010

Senate panel sets vote on Deepwater bill

By Chris Barrett

PBN Staff Writer

DEEPWATER WIND wants to install up to eight wind turbines off Block Island by 2012, followed by a 106-turbine farm in Rhode Island Sound in 2015.

PROVIDENCE – A Senate committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that could jumpstart the offshore wind farm Deepwater Wind LLC wants to build off Block Island.

The bill would allow the heads of four state agencies to sign off on a power-purchase agreement between Deepwater and National Grid Plc. In March, the R.I. Public Utilities Commission rejected a proposed contract between the two, saying the projected wholesale price of the wind farm’s electricity, 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, was too high.

On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee voted to delay a hearing scheduled for that day in order to give legislative staffers more time to draft amendments requested by its chair, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown.

Sosnowski told Providence Business News on Wednesday that she wanted to amend her bill to clarify the process the four agency heads would take before approving the bill. She also wanted to add a cap on the price of electricity for Block Island customers, which was requested by the island’s top elected official, First Warden Kim Gaffett.

Currently, Block Island generates power from diesel generators and has no connection to the mainland electric grid. One component of the wind farm project would involve installing a transmission cable between the mainland and the island.

Sosnowski said her committee also wanted to see what happened at a House committee hearing on the bill Tuesday. Gov. Donald L. Carcieri emphasized his strong support of the bill at that hearing, just as he did last week before Sosnowski’s Senate committee.

“As I said last week, passage of this legislation in a timely manner is critically important to ensuring that Rhode Island will continue to be a leader in developing an offshore wind industry,” Carcieri said in prepared remarks. “We are poised on the brink of great opportunity and must act now to seize that opportunity.”

Not everyone agrees. On Tuesday, two good-government groups – Common Cause and Operation Clean Government – came out against the bill, calling it an “unprecedented change in established process,” and R.I. Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch has repeatedly urged the General Assembly to reject it.

In a statement, Lynch, who is running for governor, described the wind farm as “a special deal for the developers that will be bad for Rhode Island consumers” and, referring to the PUC, called the bill “an end run around an unfavorable decision from an independent, impartial and apolitical tribunal.”

In a letter to Sosnowski released Tuesday, Lynch thanked her for postponing the Senate committee’s vote on the bill. He also proposed revising the guidelines for the PUC’s review process or, alternatively, having a different body such as the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board review the project.

“One factor that I believe is key to creating a viable alternative to the existing PUC procedures … is an appeal process that would keep the underlying proceeding and decision open and fair,” Lynch wrote. “This could be accomplished by providing our traditional Administrative Procedures Act review or by allowing automatic review by Petition for Certiorari to the [R.I.] Supreme Court from the agency’s final decision.”

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