When it Comes to Energy, Government Knows Best
The project to harness energy from trash at the Central Landfill is impossible not to like, in concept, and I’m not inclined to badmouth it. I do think, though, that state Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt (R., North Kingstown) has a worthy argument when it comes to process and oversight, saying that the just-passed legislation:
Authorizes the companies to enter into a no-bid, sole source contract for as much as $600 million for electricity. The contract is subject to minimal oversight and standards. We actually don’t know how much it will cost because the only limitations in the bill are the physical capacity of the plant and the number of years for the contract. (While sample prices were referred to frequently in the debate, they are not included in the bill itself.)
THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT THAT THE PRICE BE FAIR TO RHODE ISLANDERS.
- Instead of a full review by the PUC that has the staff and experience to deal with such matters, the contract requires approval, within thirty days, by four agencies, each headed by a direct appointee of the Governor. Negative rulings by three of the appointees can be overruled by the fourth so the absolute authority is actually vested in only one person. None of the four testified before the House Environment Committee as to their readiness or ability to do the job.
- Each of the four appointees is restricted to very narrow and different grounds on which to base his or her decision. They are not required to hold any hearings and members of the public will be given only 15 days to submit written comments to any of the four.
- Deliberations by the appointees are not subject to the administrative procedures act or the open meetings law so they will be able to meet with interested parties and do their decision making in secret.
- The four appointees are not required to explain the reasons for their decisions and there is no appeal.
- The House voted down, by a margin of 2 to 1, my amendment that would have at least required the rate of return to the company to be “just and reasonable.”
- The House voted down, by the same margin, my amendment that would have required the appointees to publish their decisions on the internet along with their justification for making the decision.
Ehrhardt goes on to note that this process is mirrored in the proposed change in regulation of the Deepwater wind farm. At least by appearances, it would seem reasonable to worry that even good-government types, like Governor Carcieri, are so persuaded that they must race to corner the renewable energy market that usually central considerations (like transparency) are being put aside.