Lawyers from all sides of the Block Island wind farm appeal convened with state Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Flaherty Wednesday to hammer out a schedule.
The schedule agreed to would set November 22 for briefs from those filing the appeal – the attorney general, Conservation Law Foundation and Toray Plastics/Polytop. The other side – National Grid and Deepwater Wind, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and the governor along with legislative leaders – would file their principal briefs on January 13, 2011.
Then replies would be due on February 3, 2011.
Oral arguments could occur by March. These dates will not be official until the entire Supreme Court agrees to them at its September 23 meeting.
Tuesday’s meeting with Flaherty, the acting “duty justice,” was held at the behest of Deepwater Wind and National Grid in order to seek an expedited hearing of the matter.
In a motion seeking an “immediate hearing” filed last Thursday, Deepwater and Grid point to the recently passed law (the constitutionality of which is being challenged by the appeals) that calls upon the Supreme Court to “advance any proceeding [having to do with the wind farm contract or law]… so that the matter is afforded precedence on the calendar and determined with as little delay as possible.”
At the conference was attorney Gerald Petros, representing Deepwater and National Grid; Jerry Elmer representing the Conservation Law Foundation; Attorney General Patrick Lynch; Michael McElroy, representing Toray Plastics and Polytop; Thomas Dickinson, representing the DPUC, and Terry McFayden, representing the governor and legislative leaders.
In August, the state Public Utilities Commission approved, in a 2-1 vote, the contract reached between Deepwater and National Grid for electricity generated from an eight-turbine wind farm proposed for within three miles of Block Island. The PUC had turned down a similar contract just months earlier as far too expensive.
In response, the governor worked with the General Assembly to fashion a law that called for the PUC to consider a modified contract with directions regarding what could and couldn’t be weighed in the deliberation.
The petitioners have called foul on the PUC decision and the law that allowed it.
Later on Wednesday, Lynch released a statement decrying the law.
“Especially after the kangaroo court that the governor, the legislature and Deepwater fashioned at the PUC, Deepwater’s arrogance telling our Supreme Court to, basically, push aside all other pending matters is breathtaking,” Lynch said. He added, “It also violates the spirit and, I believe, the letter of Rhode Island’s separation of powers doctrine, which was first established in our state more than 200 years ago.”
In his petition to the Supreme Court to hear his challenge of the law, Lynch refers to an incident in 1786, when the General Assembly tried to strip Rhode Island’s highest court of its jurisdiction, ordering the justices to appear on the floor of the legislature to be fired. Aided by the then-attorney general, the court survived the challenge.
“Very much the same thing is happening today with Deepwater, having successfully run roughshod over the PUC, now trying to steamroll the Supreme Court into acting more quickly,” Lynch said. “But I am confident that our court will not be intimidated by the defective provision of a defective law, and will allow the appeals process to follow its normal, deliberative course. Rhode Island ratepayers and businesses, who stand to pay for this arrogance in the form of overpriced electricity for the next 20 years, deserve nothing less.”
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