As we reported in last month’s Highlands Voice, August 28th the WV Public Service Commission (PSC) issued an order approving a siting certificate for the much contested Beech Ridge wind farm in northern Greenbrier County. Parties who had opposed that application had 20 days after the PSC ruled to challenge the certificate by asking the Commission to reconsider its action.
Many PSC observers had predicted that whichever of the parties prevailed at the PSC, that the “other side” would challenge or appeal that order. Several parties on the “losing” side have done just that. The Greenbrier County citizen group Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy (MCRE), along with several individual interveners against the project, asked the PSC to reconsider its action to grant the certificate.
The primary allegations asserted in the requests for reconsideration are that in its deliberations the PSC failed to comply with its own siting rules by accepting Beech Ridge’s allegedly “flawed” maps that contained “glaring insufficiencies”, and by accepting an incomplete Cultural Impacts assessment. The challengers further allege that the PSC failed to properly consider the impact of the project on communities within the local vicinity of Beech Ridge, and that it did not fairly appraise and balance the interests of the public, the general interests of the state and local economy, and the interests of the applicant, as state law requires.
The MCRE request for reconsideration strongly suggests that MCRE will appeal the PSC’s order granting the Beech Ridge certificate to the state Supreme Court of Appeals, “if necessary”. MCRE challenges the PSC’s assertion that Beech Ridge “substantially complied” with the mapping requirements of PSC’s siting rules.
MCRE states, “If necessary, MCRE intends to request on appeal that the Commission’s order be vacated and remanded with directions that the Commission make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions that Beech Ridge “substantially complied” with the siting regulations.”
Further, MCRE challenges the PSC recognition of Beech Ridge’s assertion that its facility is needed to meet the multi-state region’s need for renewable energy resources. In pre-filed testimony Beech Ridge’s project manager had stated, “The project will contribute to fulfilling the expending demand for renewable generation in the PJM Marketplace, where several states have or are developing renewable portfolios”.
But in its challenge to the PSC order, MCRE says, “The West Virginia legislature has not announced a renewable energy policy, nor does West Virginia require utilities to supply energy from renewable resources.” MCRE goes on to say that the legislative intent is expressed in its statutory charge to the Public Service Commission to, among other things, “(3) Encourage the well-planned development of utility resources in a manner consistent with state needs and in ways consistent with the productive use of the state’s energy resources, such as coal”.
In sum, MCRE asserts that, “the Commission exceeded its jurisdiction when it improperly considered the policies of other states and the need for sources of renewable energy in the region and weighed those factors against the interests of the citizens of West Virginia. It is clear that the renewable energy provided by Beech Ridge will be enjoyed by, and will fulfill the policies of, other states within the region serviced by PJM (regional power grid operator). It is equally clear that all of the negative impacts of this project will be endured by the citizens of West Virginia.”
But In a footnote to its request for reconsideration, MCRE says, “To be clear, MCRE is not an advocate for the use and consumption of fossil fuels. MCRE proposes development of more efficient uses of existing energy sources consistent with protecting West Virginia’s economy and environment. MCRE opposes this project because it seeks to prevent the destruction of yet another West Virginia mountain ridge for the purpose of providing a marginal amount of energy to consumers in other states.”
The Beech Ridge siting certificate issued by the PSC includes 18 preconstruction and construction certificate conditions, and 11 general operational phase certificate conditions.
But the battle over the PSC consideration of the Beech Ridge wind farm has been long and heated, and it promises to get even longer. Until the statutory “Petitions for Reconsiderations” and the almost certain appeal(s) to the state Supreme Court run their course, those 29 certificate “conditions” will be virtually meaningless.
by Frank Young
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