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PSC responds to conflict concerns

CAPE VINCENT – The state Public Service Commission has responded quickly to local concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest and promised that Commissioner Maureen F. Harris will not influence Cape Vincent Wind Farm’s state siting review.

Mrs. Harris is married to John S. Harris, an attorney with Brown & Weinraub PLLC, Albany, who is representing BP Wind Energy in its proposed 124-turbine Cape Vincent wind project.

In a letter dated Tuesday, PSC’s acting secretary, Jeffrey C. Cohen, said department staff will “ensure that Commissioner Harris does not receive any documentary information pertaining to the Cape Vincent project and will be instructed, once an application is filed, not to discuss this matter with her.”

He reiterated a PSC spokesman’s statement that it is the siting board, and not the commission, that reviews state Article X applications.

“Commissioner Harris is not a member of the siting board and therefore Commissioner Harris will not have any role in that review,” Mr. Cohen said in the letter addressed to Cape Vincent town Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey.

Should an issue arise that requires PSC’s review, Mr. Cohen said, Commissioner Harris will be “required to disclose her relationship with her husband and to recuse herself from any consideration of the matter.”

“I can assure you that the siting board, the department and the commission are very aware of concerns about potential conflicts of interest,” he said.

His letter also addresses Cape Vincent officials’ concerns over BP’s making charitable donations to local service groups.

Mr. Cohen said although these donations are not activities listed in BP’s Public Involvement Program plan for community outreach, it does not make the plan inadequate.

“Notwithstanding your concerns, the fact that the PIP does not discuss charitable donations to local service groups does not make the plan inadequate or preclude the involvement of any sector of the Cape Vincent community from participating in the Article X process,” he said.

The PSC rejected BP’s initial PIP, the first step in the Article X process, after finding it “inadequate,” but the wind developer has submitted a revised plan.

BP plans to submit its preliminary scoping statement – which would include a description of its facility and proposed impact studies, among other things – for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm project as soon as Feb. 17.

The wind farm is expected to cost at least $300 million and generate up to 285 megawatts of electricity.

The state’s Article X siting process BP is seeking to use imposes a 12-month deadline for the review of the construction and operation of electric-generating facilities of 25 megawatts or higher and allows a state siting board to overrule what it deems to be unreasonable local laws.