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RI high court: Firms have standing to challenge wind farm

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that two large manufacturers have legal standing to challenge a key approval for a wind farm proposed in waters off Block Island, but the court decided that a regional environmental group does not have standing and cannot continue in the case.

In a decision released Friday morning, the court said that the appeal lodged by Toray Plastics and Polytop Corporation can progress to a full hearing, scheduled for May 11. The two companies, both heavy users of electricity, object to the high price of power in a contract between Deepwater Wind, the company developing the 5-8 turbine wind farm about three miles southeast of Block Island, and National Grid, the state’s dominant electric utility. Together, the plastics manufacturers appealed the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the power purchase agreement last August.

The Conservation Law Foundation also lodged an appeal, arguing that an amendment last year to state law that facilitated the agreement amounted to special-interest legislation designed to benefit Deepwater.

Then-Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch was also part of the appeal, but his successor in office, Peter F. Kilmartin, a supporter of the Deepwater project, dropped out of the case after winning election.

The issue of standing was raised by the court after the attorney general’s office dropped its appeal early this year. At a hearing April 6, Michael R. McElroy, lawyer for the plastics companies, and Jerry Elmer, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, argued why they should be allowed to continue the case.

McElroy said his clients have standing because they will have to pay millions of dollars in additional electric distribution fees to National Grid because the above-market costs of the wind farm will be shared throughout the state power system. Elmer said that Conservation Law Foundation has standing because its members will be directly affected by climate change if the controversy surrounding the Deepwater project delays other renewable energy developments.

A lawyer for Deepwater and National Grid argued against their petitions as did an attorney representing the governor’s office and General Assembly leaders.