Seth Handy: Paper's censorship vs. the facts of renewable energy



 It is sad and ironic that the opportunity for good legislation on the interconnection of renewable energy to Rhode Island’s electricity-distribution system was squandered by utility lobbying and The Providence Journal’s one-sided coverage of one developer’s (Wind Energy Development LLC) alleged undue influence (“Favor to wind-project developer could cost electric rate payers,” June 12; “Republicans want provision that aids R.I. wind-power developer removed,” June 13; “{House Speaker Nicholas} Mattiello removes provision to benefit big donor, cost rate payers,” June 14; and “Wind power favor yanked” and the editorial “No favor to R.I. ratepayers,’’ both on June 15).  I was quoted in one article and write to correct the record.  

I sent this column to The Journal's editorial-page editor, Edward Achorn, but he declined to run it.

Interconnection legislation is needed and good for the people of Rhode Island. I explained that to the reporter but he neglected to report it.  Our utility, National Grid, administers interconnection to protect its interest in the existing energy system, to the detriment of a new-energy economy that greatly benefits Rhode Island.  The utility has a history of inflating interconnection costs and delaying interconnection to an extent that many good projects cannot withstand and others are severely overburdened. 

The assertion that this bill was to benefit one developer is wrong; interconnection obstructs many good projects.  Sadly, too many developers are scared to speak out, because the utility still controls too much of the fate of their projects.  National Grid’s abuse of its discretion on interconnection was especially obvious in response to the proposed large Coventry wind project. National Grid refused to interconnect some turbines and sought to charge Wind Energy Development $13 million  as part of the process of replacing much of Coventry’s antiquated poles and wires. 

But interconnection problems are rampant in Rhode Island and across America.  When our “regulated utility” is inadequately regulated, as it has been on interconnection, it is the General Assembly’s duty to protect Rhode Island’s interests through legislation.  The interconnection bill put necessary parameters on utility control over interconnection.  It was supported by the state Office of Energy Resources and passed the House of Representatives twice by nearly unanimous vote because it is good policy.

National Grid is not a benign steward of ratepayer interests; it is a corporation based in England.  When its shareholders’ interests conflict with those of our ratepayers, it favors its shareholders.  That is why, for instance, National Grid reported $8 million in annual profits for operating Rhode Island’s municipal streetlights all made while it refused to authorize conversion to more efficient LED fixtures that have much lower maintenance costs.  

National Grid’s conflicting interest on local renewables was evident in its proposal to charge Wind Energy Development an access fee to use the distribution system that was put forth without even considering the General Assembly’s order that it first weigh the economic benefits of local generation.  Unanimous opposition led National Grid to withdraw that access fee just before the state Public Utilities Commission hearing.

Studies consistently show that local renewables benefit all ratepayers by reducing the costs of energy, capacity, transmission, distribution, line-loss, operating risk, environmental, and other known and measurable costs of our energy system.  A national expert presented this information at the State House on March 24, 2016; you can watch it on Capitol TV.  The Journal’s reporting that an interconnection policy that fairly allocates responsibility for system upgrades benefitting all customers would cost us all and unduly subsidize renewables ignored that ratepayers already pay National Grid to maintain and improve its distribution system.  Most importantly, it overlooks the savings that renewables produce for our energy system.  The reporter that interviewed me chose to ignore all that.

National Grid spent at least $84,000 on lobbying this legislative session. Their reporting  of their lobbying is unclear and it is hard to track their legislative contributions apparently made through their lobbyist’s Political Action Committee (PAC), “Advocacy Political Action.”  Those of us regularly pushing for good energy legislation face the utility’s resistance, not so much in the hearings but late in the session from back rooms of the State House.

 Last year, this interconnection law that unanimously passed the House was victim to the Senate’s early adjournment.  This year, after very supportive hearings and near unanimous approval from the House, National Grid worked to strip it through the Senate.  I deplore the impact of money in politics, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s free speech cases, like Citizens United, protect such spending to sway government action.  For The Journal to deride influence sought by a renewable- energy developer awkwardly overlooks the massive influence such developers are up against.   National Grid spends huge sums of ratepayer dollars on advertising, much of which is in The Journal.  Such well-funded speech evidently earns greater protection. 

At the end of this legislative session, strategic and poorly reported last-minute flame-throwing beat down a good bill.  The utility still holds its strings on interconnection.  Now that the dust has settled we can reflect on that.  Much may be vested in our existing energy system, but our people are not well served by its exceptionally high cost, insecurity and other bad impacts.  To change that, we need to correct the mechanics under which alternatives are delivered.  Those of us who are passionate about Rhode Island’s energy future remain confident that justice ultimately will be served through policies that promote the public good, despite all the financial interests that obstruct them.

Seth Handy is a lawyer in Providence.

Chris Powell: Sex slavery, Democrats, government as a business


"La Grande Odalisque''  (1814) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres


Sensing a winning issue, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy used his last debate with his Republican rival Tom Foley to lecture Foley about the name of his yacht, Odalisque, a name derived from the Turkish word for concubine, though it has evolved to include portraiture of the naked female form.

"You have a daughter," Malloy harrumphed at Foley. "Do you really think it's appropriate to have a boat named after a sex slave?"

Foley, a very rich businessman, insisted that his aim in naming the yacht had been to evoke art, not lust, and he cited the works of the French painters Matisse and Ingres. At last the campaign had come upon a subject about which Foley knew something -- just not one involving public policy or likely to make him seem like a man of the people.

But if Foley had known less about art and more about Connecticut he might have turned the tables on the governor, whom of course, won the election. For in one respect sex slavery is actually state government policy, fervently supported by the Democratic Party's most fearsome ideologues.

It happens when abortions result from the sex slavery of minors.

This rationalization of sex slavery was first noticed in 2007 when a West Hartford man was charged with harboring and using as a sex slave a 15-year-old girl who had run away from her home in Bloomfield. Having impregnated the girl, the man sent her to an abortion clinic, where the pregnancy was terminated with no serious questions about the girl's circumstances or about her parents or guardian, with the girl returning to her sex slavemaster. Those who remarked that the case argued for legislation to require parental notification for abortions on minors were denounced as Neanderthals.

A similar case became public in Coventry, Conn., last year with the arrest of the fire chief, who was having frequent sex with a cadet member of the department when she was 15 and impregnated her when she was 16. As a matter of law it was all rape, even at 16, since the girl, as a cadet, was under the chief's authority. The chief also arranged for the girl's abortion without anyone being the wiser. In this case Connecticut's lack of a parental -notification law concealed not only the sustained sexual exploitation of a minor but also an abuse of official power that itself had been specifically criminalized. But this time the horrible circumstances were taken for granted.

For in Connecticut a boat that might have been named after a sex slave is purported to be a political scandal, an affront to the dignity of women generally and children particularly, but sex slavery for children is considered preferable to requiring an inquiry into the rape of minors when abortions are to be performed on them.

* * *

The rhetoric of the recent election campaign in Connecticut was full of the cliche that government should be run more like a business. But that's exactly the problem -- that government in Connecticut already operates like a business, primarily to make money for itself in a monopoly environment rather than to uphold a social obligation and perform a public service.

Student test scores and the explosion in the need for remedial courses show that education has been declining even as its cost is always rising.

A half-century of poverty policy hasn't elevated the poor to self-sufficiency but instead has created and sustained a vicious cycle of dependence and degradation in which nearly half the state's children now grow up without fathers.

Criminal-justice policy serves mainly to give a third of the state's young black and Hispanic men criminal records that leave them unskilled and largely unemployable for most of their lives.

But education, poverty, and criminal justice are the major employment agencies of government, providing livelihoods with great salaries, benefits and pensions to tens of thousands of people regardless of the results of their businesses, results that are never audited but are infinitely more damaging than anything from which the infamous Koch Brothers make their money.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, based in Manchester, Conn.