Picture this! The game is tied, 120 ticks left on the clock and the league title is on the line. During the time out, you look out from your sideline huddle and see the Head Referee and Umpire, megaphones in hand, near the top of the opposing team’s cheerleading pyramid. Probably didn’t have this scenario in your playbook for the two minute drill, did you?
It might seem obvious to most folks that individuals responsible to provide oversight for an activity shouldn’t simultaneously and actively promote the outcome of the activity. In fact, unless you want folks to perhaps think you’re biased toward the outcome, you might want to keep the pompoms hidden, at least until all the facts are in!
Well, for some of us here in Mineral County West Virginia, it’s like we’re at the 2 minute warning of the Pinnacle Wind Farm Bowl and, looking out of the huddle, we see what might be one or two of our own “Referees” teetering near the top of the US WindForce pyramid.
Oh, and if you’re not familiar with the unfolding saga that is the Mineral County Commission review of the planned Pinnacle wind farm, don’t let this be the only thing you read. Check out the local newspaper accounts (here and here) and WV PSC transcripts, which will provide a flavor of the way the game has been played until now. Of course, I invite you to snoop around this blog if you have time. Plus, I’ve embedded a few links in this post you might find helpful.
Anyway, here’s the deal, as I see it.
Some folks might think, even though an elected official is responsible to insure all obligations are met, it’s still OK for them to support a business venture like the Pinnacle wind farm (a 23 turbine project which, if completed, will consume a large section of the Allegheny Front above Keyser, WV), because its claim is to bring jobs and revenue to the county.
Not me! I prefer to think the role of the Commission is to insure that rules are followed, agreements are concluded properly, responsibilities are clearly assigned to protect the citizens of the community and that any suggested benefit to the community is, in fact, real!
We’ve discussed the few pros and many cons of industrial wind here on the blog, so I won’t bore you with all that. What I’d like to focus on in this post is what I see as a failure of the Mineral County Commission to adequately scrutinize the proposed wind farm.
Yes, I know! We’ve heard time and again that it’s not within the Commission powers to affect the outcome of the installation. That all happens in Charleston, we’re told. Well, if that’s the case, why did some of our Commissioners jump on the wind wagon to promote the adventure almost as soon as it rolled across the county line?
Is it the role of the Commission to promote a specific business? Not according to their web page, as far as I can see – “The County Commission, as the governing body, is responsible for the fiscal affairs and general administration of county government. The County Commission does not possess inherent rights of self government but are creations of the State with the authority to carry out those functions specified by the WV Constitution or by legislative enactment.”
Sure, everyone in the county should be rooting for business to show up bringing jobs and the resulting tax revenue. But I’m just not sure that County Commissioners should go all gooey just at the promise of benefit. For example, wasn’t there a tiny red flag waving somewhere in the distance, with a warning that the promise of benefits was being made by the very entity which stands to profit from the venture and will, by their own admission, have little or nothing to do with the actual construction or operation of the facility. Didn’t any of these folks play “Clue?”
Oh, it’s ok to have a position on an issue such as industrial wind, but you just can’t let it influence, or even have it perceived to have influenced your judgment, especially when you serve as “governing body” with responsibility for oversight. Besides, in my experience, regulators and governing bodies seemed to run like hell from specific product or company endorsements. The risk of being accused of having “skin” in the game, “on the take,” or even painted with blame should the business go bust or worse, stiff the public, was enough to have these folks back-peddling from any appearance of support for a named company or product.
Besides, don’t we have people on the County payroll tasked to promote business? Maybe they’re busy doing the Commissioner’s work!
So, what’s my beef? Simple! If you govern, you can’t lead the cheers for either side! And it seems to me that we might have at least one Commissioner sporting a sweater with a big USWF logo embroidered across the front. And that, to me, is a problem.
If you’re charged with exhausting all possibilities to protect the public welfare, you can’t throw your hands up in frustration, run and hide from threats of lawsuit, or find yourself surprised when the two minute warning whistle blows and the process you helped to “blitz” is more complicated than you thought.
Protecting the interest of the community from being blindsided, even one as small as ours, is big league stuff, and I’m just not sure some are up to the task.
So, what follows is a short list of items others might think just fine. I don’t. You certainly don’t have to agree with any of my opinions. That is, after all, why we have a comment section.
- It’s not fine with me for the Commission to send a letter to the WV PSC in support of a specific business venture.
- But it seems they did!
- It’s not fine with me for any individual, acting on their own, to employ the “power” of the County Commission in an effort to influence the decision of a legitimate appeal in process before the WV PSC.
- It’s not fine with me for a Commissioner to throw hands in the air with frustration because it all got so complicated and we just need to get it done.
- It’s not fine with me that the Commission tossed hours and hours of legitimate work back at a serious and earnest volunteer committee simply to placate the whining of the developer and their “sorta, but not at the moment, maybe later” attorney who suggested a lawsuit as an amiable approach to problem solving.
- It’s not fine with me that the Commission chose to allow US WindForce to select its recommended consultant for the purpose of developing a decommission plan, without giving serious consideration to qualified and experienced US based consulting firms, in spite of the authority given by the WV PSC to insure the best consultant is selected for protection of the public interest.
- It’s not fine with me that a Commissioner would challenge the credentials of the Allegheny Front Alliance in a public forum after the same Commissioner previously wrote the WV PSC suggesting the dismissal of the appeal brought by the Allegheny Front Alliance (which, by the way, she mentioned by name in her letter).
- It’s not fine with me that the same Commissioner would hear from private citizens without equal challenge to credentials in the same forum in which she challenged the Allegheny Front Alliance.
- But, it seems she did!
- It’s not fine with me that the same two Commissioners enabling Item 5 above, would now seem somehow “baffled” that the Escrow agreement proposed by US WindForce, which governs the distribution of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS some twenty years from now to insure the decommission issue will not cost the community MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, might be “overwhelming” and “all new.”
- But, it seems they are!
And finally, it’s not fine with me that the only Commissioner perhaps willing to give full, fair and patient hearing of the facts; who requested review of additional sources to assess the decommission plan, rather than giddily accept the US WindForce UK based consultant; who supported the efforts of the volunteer planning committee plan roundly dismissed by fellow Commissioners at the request of the developer and was willing to challenge the developer on specific issues, will be gone in January, replaced by a new Commissioner who appears to favor wind energy. Hopefully, we’ll not find the new Commissioner doing cartwheels behind the US WindForce bench.
So, how does the last 2 minutes of the game play out?
What I’ve read and heard coming out of the last meeting at which the Escrow Agreement was submitted, I wish I knew. If I take the comments quoted in the newspaper, made by the two attending Commissioners, they seemed stunned that the document which would control disbursement of several million dollars over two decades is a tad long and complicated. Oh, you might think the developer was saving the best for last, but didn’t we see this play developing? Suddenly, we seem surprised that the “good” neighbor gang is all about controlling assets away from this dinky community, with the exception, of course, of their suggestion that they secure an attorney who might still be alive when the clunkers no longer have value. (I would have thought it enough for the developer to say they were recommending Attorney John Athey based on his excellent credentials which, by all accounts, he certainly possesses!)
But, hopefully, the Escrow agreement will be reviewed by one of our excellent legal teams and insure that the community is protected. It would be a nice change, in my opinion, from the end run the two Commissioners provided the developer in allowing a single source of his own consultant to construct the decommission plan we will have to live by long after US WindForce is off hawking another batch of erector sets. And, much as I hate to beat a dead horse, the decommission plan was the one specific area in which authority to influence the outcome of a project segment, for the benefit of the community, was provided to the County Commission by the WV PSC. And they punted!
Maybe there’s a better explanation than my interpretation. If there is, I’d sure like to hear it. But, until then, I’ll just keep watching things fumble along, wondering when someone is finally going to toss the red flag onto the field and ask that the play be reviewed.