PROVIDENCE – Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch filed a petition with the Rhode Island Supreme Court on Monday seeking to reverse the recent approval by state regulators of a power-purchase agreement that would pave the way for an offshore wind farm near Block Island.
The filing followed a similar action taken Friday by the Conservation Law Foundation, a New England environmental group that objects to legislation underpinning the agreement, as well as a joint petition lodged earlier Monday by Toray Plastics America and Polytop Corp., both heavy users of electricity that are concerned about the high cost of offshore wind power.
All three appeals request the court to overturn the state Public Utilities Commission’s 2-to-1 vote approving a long-term contract between developer Deepwater Wind and utility National Grid. The deadline for challenging the decision was Monday, seven days after the PUC issued written approval of the controversial agreement.
In a statement announcing his office’s appeal, Lynch derided the 20-year contract – which includes a price for wind power that’s more than double what National Grid pays for energy from conventional sources – as an “outrageously bad sweetheart deal for Rhode Island.”
“As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m all for green energy,” he said. “But in this case, green energy translates into greenbacks for the developers of an anti-competitive project with a limited scope that will force us to buy overpriced electricity for the next 20 years in order to subsidize one company, rather than jobs that are so desperately needed.”
Lynch’s appeal creates an unusual situation. The attorney general’s office has historically defended the Public Utilities Commission and its sister agency, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, in cases that have been appealed but, because of a clear conflict in this instance, the commission will be forced to seek outside legal counsel, according to Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Governor Carcieri. Staff from the governor’s office will meet with representatives of the General Assembly’s leadership in coming days to decide who will be hired, she said.
“We do find the path [Lynch] is embarking on is problematic, and it does depart from tradition,” Kempe said. “The governor believes we have a responsibility to defend the constitutionality of the law. We believe the appeal is without merit.”
Deepwater Wind CEO and managing director William M. Moore said his company stood behind the PUC’s decision.
“We will vigorously defend the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission’s decision, as we believe it represents a major milestone toward solidifying Rhode Island’s leadership position in the offshore wind-development industry,” Moore said in a statement.
The company will not delay development or permitting applications because of the appeals, chief development officer Paul Rich said in an interview.
Under the power-purchase agreement, National Grid would pay Deepwater a starting price of up to 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour for power from the eight-turbine wind farm proposed in waters within three miles of Block Island. The baseline price could be lower if Deepwater saves on construction costs, but it would still increase 3.5 percent annually.
The Conservation Law Foundation was an early supporter of Deepwater’s project, backing a previous contract proposal between the developer and National Grid. But that agreement was rejected by the PUC last spring, and it took a controversial amendment to state law – supported by the governor and legislative leaders – for the two sides to revive talks.
The CLF and the attorney general’s office were among a host of groups that opposed the new law, saying it was designed to benefit only a single private entity. They argue that the law violates the separation-of-powers doctrine in the Rhode Island Constitution and also contend that it goes against provisions in the Constitution that require “all laws be made for the good of the whole.”
Toray and Polytop, which both manufacture plastics, oppose the power-purchase agreement because they say it will significantly increase their already hefty energy costs. The companies say in their appeal that the agreement should not have been approved because the decision was not supported by the evidence presented to the PUC.
It is unclear when the Supreme Court will consider the appeals. The amended state law says “the Supreme Court shall advance any proceeding under this section so that the matter is afforded precedence on the calendar and shall be heard and determined with as little delay as possible.”
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