A Sham of a Hot-Air Government
Rather than simply cut the Public Utilities Commission out of the process of approving an off-shore wind project, the General Assembly, with the enthusiastic assent of Governor Don Carcieri, has effectively permitted the commission a single stamp — a rubber one:
The new law changes that measuring stick by dramatically narrowing the window for the PUC assessment. Rather than ruling whether the price is broadly commercially reasonable, the PUC must now approve the contract if it is deemed to be “commercially reasonable for a small offshore wind-demonstration project that is limited to eight wind turbines, even if there may be other energy alternatives in the region that could produce electricity at a lower unit cost.”
“It’s designed to make it difficult for the Public Utilities Commission to come up with a decision other than what the General Assembly wants it to decide,” said Tricia Jedele, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center. “They’re essentially asking the PUC to compare the cost of this proposed project against itself.”
In fact, the law is even more overt than that. It cuts the amount of time for review, appears to limit the amount of input that the PUC will accept, and requires Deepwater Wind to pay for an “expert” (via the Economic Development Corporation) to give an air of authority to the proceedings. Furthermore, in one of those cute little tricks of governance, the law states that the PUC should affirm that the “amended agreement contains terms and conditions that are commercially reasonable,” and then subsequently, under a separate bullet on environmental benefits, defines the term as follows:
Notwithstanding any other provisions of the general laws to the contrary, for the purposes of this section, “commercially reasonable” shall mean terms and pricing that are reasonably consistent with what an experienced power market analyst would expect to see for a project of a similar size, technology and location, and meeting the policy goals in subsection (a) of this section.
In other words, the General Assembly and governor might just as well have passed a law approving of the project. At this point, the PUC is little more than a fig leaf of political cover.