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BP attorney’s PSC connection

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CAPE VINCENT — An attorney representing BP Wind Energy in its proposed Cape Vincent Wind Farm project is married to a high-ranking official with the state Public Service Commission.

Both BP and PSC confirmed that attorney John S. Harris is the spouse of PSC Commissioner Maureen F. Harris but said Mrs. Harris does not have a say in the outcome of state siting reviews.

“Wind farm approvals would be the responsibility of the siting board, not the PSC. PSC has no role to play in the review of the BP project in Cape Vincent,” said commission spokesman James A. Denn, who spoke on behalf of Mrs. Harris.

One of five PSC commissioners, Mrs. Harris also is a board member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., a subsidiary of the state Empire State Development Corp.

She began her legal career in the state attorney general’s office and was a partner with the Girvin & Ferlazzo law firm, Albany, prior to her appointment to the PSC.

According to an Associated Press article, in 2008 she paid $50,000 to end an investigation into state benefits she was improperly awarded while working as a lawyer for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services prior to joining the PSC.

Her husband, Mr. Harris, recently left Harris Beach PLLC, Albany, to join another Albany law firm, Brown & Weinraub PLLC, as a partner but still represents BP’s Cape Vincent Wind Farm.

His last public appearance was at a recent Cape Vincent wind workshop, where he made a presentation on the state energy siting review process.

“John Harris is a talented attorney who has worked on this project for several years and we would like to keep him on board,” said Cape Vincent Wind Farm project manager Richard F. Chandler when asked if BP had hired Mr. Harris partly because of his PSC connection.

Mr. Chandler echoed PSC’s statement that Commissioner Harris has “nothing to do” with the Article X review process.

“There is no conflict. The only commissioner that has anything to do with the process is the chairman of the PSC,” he said. “Mrs. Harris has nothing to do with the process.”

BP’s $300 million project calls for 124 turbines to be placed in the town.

The wind developer is seeking a state Article X process that imposes a 12-month deadline for the review of the construction and operation of major electric-generating facilities of 25 megawatts or higher.

Critics of wind development and Article X of the 2011 Power NY Act argue that the process violates municipal home rule by allowing a state siting board to overrule what it deems to be unreasonable local laws.

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