The state Supreme Court has set a final schedule in the appeal of the Block Island wind farm decision.
Briefs from the petitioners – Attorney General Patrick Lynch, Conservation Law Foundation, Polytop Corp. and Toray Plastics – are due by November 22. All the appeals have been consolidated.
The respondents and internvenors in the case – Deepwater Wind, National Grid, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, as well as the governor, speaker of the house and the senate president – must have their briefs submitted by January 13, 2011; all reply briefs are then due by February 3, 2011. Once all the briefs are in hand the court will set a date for oral arguments.
It’s still not clear when a final decision would be rendered.
Those bringing the appeal argue that the modified renewable energy law, passed by the General Assembly this summer in reaction to the Public Utilities Commission’s unanimous rejection of the first wind farm contract in March, was unconstitutional. The law called upon the PUC to reconsider a modified contract and provided guidelines as to what the commission could or could not weigh. The commission subsequently approved the contract 2-1.
The appellants also argue that the contract doesn’t meet the law’s requirement that the cost of electricity coming from the eight-turbine wind farm proposed for within three miles of Block Island’s southeast side be “commercially reasonable.”
The contract calls for the cost not to exceed 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour in the first year, with 3.5 percent annual escalations for the 20-year life of the contract. Current wholesale electricity costs are approximately 9 cents per-kWh.
Deepwater still confident
Deepwater Chief Development Officer Paul Rich said Wednesday he’s confident that if the Supreme Court process favors the project, the company could still get the farm installed and operational – including a cable to the mainland – by the end of 2012. The timing is crucial as Deepwater’s financing of the project is reliant upon a federal tax investment credit that would expire at the end of 2012.
In the meantime, Rich says, Deepwater will continue to gather wind and avian data and move forward with permitting.
“We remain optimistic,” said Rich.
He also said that construction windows would be scheduled according to what has been learned in the Special Area Management Plan so that it would not impact marine species in the area, such as whale migration.
Rich also confirmed that defense contractor Raytheon was interested in partnering with Deepwater to conduct research and development on electricity storage devices. He said the effort was akin to Deepwater’s relationship with OSHEAN to add a fiber-optic element to the cable – another avenue to “increase the public gain from the project.”
“We really view this as a demonstration project,” added Rich.
The Raytheon representative on the project was not available for comment.
D.E. Shaw downsizes
Bloomberg News reported this week that Deepwater’s primary backer, the D.E. Shaw hedge fund firm, had laid off 10 percent of its workforce, or about 150 people. According to Bloomberg, the company’s assets have dropped 46 percent to $21 billion. D.E. Shaw told the Times last summer that it had already invested millions of dollars in Deepwater Wind.
In other news, a poll conducted by Rhode Island based television station WRNI showed that 56 percent of likely voters polled supported the Block Island wind farm project and would not object to paying from $1.35 to $3 more a month to make it happen. According to the same poll, 32 percent were against it, and 12 percent “were not sure.”
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