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RI Govenor Carcieri backs special law for energy developer to bypass permit agency

Governor Carcieri went before a Senate committee on Wednesday to urge passage of first-of-a-kind legislation that would allow a private energy company to bypass a key regulatory board in a quest to build a wind farm in waters off Block Island. ...Speaking at a candidates debate at a state business forum in the morning, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a Democrat, said that allowing one company to avoid the PUC would set a bad precedent.

PROVIDENCE - Governor Carcieri went before a Senate committee on Wednesday to urge passage of first-of-a-kind legislation that would allow a private energy company to bypass a key regulatory board in a quest to build a wind farm in waters off Block Island.

Carcieri gave "unqualified support" to a bill that would clear the way for developer Deepwater Wind to enter into a power-purchase agreement with National Grid, the state's main electricity utility, which could go into effect without approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. The governor told the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture that the special treatment the bill would give Deepwater is necessary for the company's eight-turbine wind farm to move forward quickly, and is also a crucial step in the plan for Rhode Island to become a manufacturing hub for the nation's offshore wind industry.

"Rhode Island is positioned as a leader," said the Republican governor who has been a vocal champion of the project. "We have an opportunity to be the first state in the nation to develop offshore wind."

Carcieri's comments came hours after one of the candidates vying to replace the term-limited... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

PROVIDENCE - Governor Carcieri went before a Senate committee on Wednesday to urge passage of first-of-a-kind legislation that would allow a private energy company to bypass a key regulatory board in a quest to build a wind farm in waters off Block Island.

Carcieri gave "unqualified support" to a bill that would clear the way for developer Deepwater Wind to enter into a power-purchase agreement with National Grid, the state's main electricity utility, which could go into effect without approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. The governor told the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture that the special treatment the bill would give Deepwater is necessary for the company's eight-turbine wind farm to move forward quickly, and is also a crucial step in the plan for Rhode Island to become a manufacturing hub for the nation's offshore wind industry.

"Rhode Island is positioned as a leader," said the Republican governor who has been a vocal champion of the project. "We have an opportunity to be the first state in the nation to develop offshore wind."

Carcieri's comments came hours after one of the candidates vying to replace the term-limited governor came out against the legislation that was introduced last week by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, the chairwoman of the Senate committee.

Speaking at a candidates debate at a state business forum in the morning, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a Democrat, said that allowing one company to avoid the PUC would set a bad precedent. In a letter sent to Sosnowski dated May 4, Lynch said that although he supports wind power in general, he does not believe in creating a new law written simply to benefit Deepwater.

"The irony is that this act, purportedly designed to help wind energy, would actually hurt it," he wrote. "It would promote a single inefficient and unfairly selected small-scale demonstration project at the expense of efficient and fair large-scale projects."

Lynch has previously voiced his support for a 100-turbine, utility-scale wind farm that Deepwater is also developing. That project, which would be in federal waters off Rhode Island, is expected to produce cheaper energy than the Block Island project but could take seven or more years to permit.

Lynch was the only candidate during the debate to speak against the legislation on the table in the State House. One of his opponents, General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio, also a Democrat, later told the Associated Press that he supports the smaller wind farm and does not oppose Sosnowski's bill.

She filed the controversial legislation a month after the PUC rejected a long-term power-purchase agreement between Deepwater and National Grid. The commission's three members, who were all appointed by Carcieri, unanimously voted against the contract, saying that the 24.4 cent-per-kilowatt-hour starting price of energy from the wind farm was not "commercially reasonable." They not only assessed the price high compared with the current price the utility pays for power from fossil fuel-fired plants, 9.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, but also said it was high compared with other renewable-energy projects.

Sosnowski, Carcieri and other backers of the Deepwater project say the PUC misunderstood the standard under which it was to judge the contract. The legislation would remove the commission from the regulatory process completely. Instead, the heads of four other state agencies would review an agreement: the Office of Energy Resources; the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers; the Economic Development Corporation; and the Department of Administration. All four would have to certify the agreement for it to go into effect.

But several speakers at the hearing questioned whether the PUC really misinterpreted the law. They said the new legislation was filed only because the commission handed down a decision that lawmakers did not like. The critics include the Conservation Law Foundation, which participated in the PUC proceedings as a supporter of Deepwater's plan, but does not support the legislation.

"The Senate should not act as a board of appeals and say, ‘We disagree with the decision you made and we shall authorize this contract,' " said Tricia Jedele, director of CLF's Rhode Island Advocacy Center.

Former Attorney General James O'Neill, who owns a home on Block Island, took a similar position.

"It takes seven months of effort by the PUC, which conducted extensive hearings, and scraps that effort," he said of the bill.

As expected, organized-labor leaders spoke in support of the legislation, saying Deepwater's plans would create hundreds of jobs. Elected officials from Block Island also spoke in favor because they said they believe the eight-turbine wind farm would generate cheaper power for the island, which is not connected to the mainland power grid and gets electricity from diesel generators. But several island residents testified against the bill and expressed doubts about the viability of the wind farm.

The timing of the legislation is extremely important, according to Deepwater and its supporters. The company must get a power-purchase agreement signed promptly to secure loans for its $200-million project. Deepwater could then order turbines and other equipment this year, allowing it to qualify for federal tax credits.

If the bill passes, said Deepwater chief executive officer William M. Moore, Rhode Island could still build offshore before other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Carolinas.

"This really is, I think, the last chance for Rhode Island to get back in this race," he said in an interview before testifying.


Source: http://www.projo.com/news/c...

MAY 6 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26094-ri-govenor-carcieri-backs-special-law-for-energy-developer-to-bypass-permit-agency
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