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Cape officials request ‘assurance’ commissioner will not influence wind project

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CAPE VINCENT — Town officials want “assurance” from the state Public Service Commission that Maureen F. Harris, a PSC commissioner who is married to an attorney representing BP Wind Energy, will not influence the Article X siting deliberations for the wind project.

Mrs. Harris is married to John S. Harris, an attorney working for BP. The wind developer and PSC said last week Mrs. Harris does not have a say in the outcome of state siting reviews.

But town officials are not convinced.

“Please understand that we in Cape Vincent have had a long, tortuous history of local municipal officials who have had direct conflicts of interest with BP and the other wind developer Acciona Energia,” they wrote in a letter to PSC Secretary Jaclyn A. Brilling. “As a community we are very, very sensitive to the conflict issue.”

Local officials asked in their letter that the PSC offer “some assurance that Commissioner Harris is not involved in the Article X process and that she would not have any influence over PSC staff who may be involved in any future proceedings” in the proposed Cape Vincent Wind Farm project’s siting review.

Earlier this year, BP acquired Spanish renewable energy company Acciona’s St. Lawrence Wind Farm, merging it with its Cape Vincent Wind Farm proposal.

The combined project calls for 124 turbines to be placed in the town to generate up to 285 megawatts of electricity, which is enough, the company estimates, to power a city the size of Syracuse.

Following the merger, the wind developer announced it would seek a state Article X process to expedite approval of the $300 million project and possibly bypass Cape Vincent’s strict zoning restrictions on wind turbines.

Article X of the state Public Service Law 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.

Most recently, the wind farm developer sent the PSC its revised Public Involvement Program plan for community outreach and hopes to submit its preliminary scoping statement — BP’s next step in the preapplication process — as soon as Feb. 17.

The scoping statement requires developers to provide to the state agency a description of its facility and proposed impact studies, among other items.

Cape Vincent officials said they are worried Mrs. Harris would influence the appointment of a hearing examiner, who would oversee the preapplication process to mediate issues relating to the preliminary scoping statement.

They further argue Cape Vincent is at a disadvantage when it comes to access to state officials with the PSC, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and Energy Research and Development Authority.

“Regrettably, small municipalities do not have the same access and exposure to the state’s regulating bodies. We know as we proceed with BP’s Article X proposal that this imbalance puts Cape Vincent at a disadvantage,” they wrote. “Having BP’s attorney of record married to a PSC commissioner does nothing to mollify our fear of having the process tilted even further in favor of the applicant.”

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