Ethics complaint filed, Councilor responds
At a joint meeting between the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) and the New Shoreham Town Council on June 25, Dr. Albert Casazza stated that he planned to file an ethics complaint against Councilor Chris Warfel. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission received this complaint in mid-July and has not yet determined whether or not it will pursue the complaint and investigate further. According to Attorney Jason Gramitt, the Commission will likely conduct an initial review of the document at its August 19 meeting.
Casazza, who serves as the president of BIPCo, alleged in the complaint that Warfel had been repeatedly using his position on the Council to advance his personal interests.
The beginning of the complaint reads: “The gist of the Complaint is that Christopher Warfel (“Warfel”) furthered his financial interest in solar energy by repeated appearances before the New Shoreham Town Council, of which he is a member. It is also alleged that he appeared before the Energy Utility Task Group (EUTG) while he was a member of that Board and before the New Shoreham Planning Board, as a Town Council member.”
Rhode Island General Law 36-14-5(e)(1) states, “‘No person subject to this code of ethics shall represent him or herself before any state or municipal agency of which he or she is a member or by which he or she is employed….’”
A background section of the complaint, penned by Casazza, reads, “Warfel tries to have institutional support from the Town of New Shoreham to change BIPCo’s policy to allow any size solar installation and to allow credit for all excess electricity generated. This change in policy would produce more and larger sales for his solar company and negatively affect other ratepayers in the future.”
This has been a long-standing dispute between Warfel and BIPCo. The filed packet contained a list of culled meeting minutes, most of which were from Town Council meetings, dating from 2012-2014. All meetings in which “BIPCo,” “Warfel,” and/or “net metering” were mentioned in the minutes were listed; between January 2012 and May 2014, over 40 meeting minutes fit this criteria.
In the complaint, Casazza states that BIPCo is not against changing the climate of solar energy on the island, for which Warfel has been advocating. He states that Warfel’s wish to change the net-metering policy and practices would be uneconomical and unfair to other ratepayers, and that the Chief Counsel of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, John Spirito Jr. and the special utility counsel to the town, have found no legal basis to support net metering for solar installations on the island.
Attached exhibits include letters from Spirito, which state that “BIPCo’s net-metering policy is not mandated or regulated under Rhode Island’s net-metering or distributed generation laws (R.I.G.L. Chapters 39-26.2, 39-26.3 and 39-26.4). In fact, the Company’s net-metering policy is completely discretionary and voluntary….neither the Division, nor the Commission, has the legal authority to order BIPCo to amend its net-metering policy…”
At the June 25 meeting, Warfel refuted this claim and said that he was trying to assist those who were having a problem with BIPCo metering, and also to improve the energy efficiency of the island.
In a statement sent to The Block Island Times, Warfel said, “The fact that the Town and BIPCo are lockstep in opposing these ideas is a problem that I believe needs to be addressed at the regulatory level…If I have to appear before the Ethics Commission for attempting to bring common sense to our energy situation, then so be it.”
The official complaint concluded with, “The Ethics Commission is respectfully requested to inform Mr. Warfel that he cannot continue to be in the local solar business, and arguing for his business, while he remains on the Town Council.”
Warfel’s response to ethics complaint
The Block Island Times asked for Chris Warfel’s response to the ethics complaint that has been filed against him by Dr. Al Casazza of the Block Island Power Co. He sent in the following:
For over a decade, the Town Council and the highest levels of our Town government have continually failed to pursue energy policies to which every other community in Rhode Island has access. Not even this year’s Red Sox have this poor of a batting average. In addition, over the seven years of the Electric Utility Task Group’s existence, they have failed to bring any meaningful energy saving programs or ideas to the Town. In fact, they have even failed to support ones that are brought to them, even though they would clearly save taxpayer and ratepayer dollars. Unfortunately, instead of devising proactive energy saving and cost saving ideas, they have morphed into the Town’s rubber stamp of Deep Water Wind.
I believe the Town’s systematic failure is purposeful, and is intended to keep electrical energy consumption as high as possible on Block Island in order to make the impact of a cable look as favorable as it can. But this is false economics. The energy cost reductions that will accrue to Block Island comes at the cost of the rest of the State, now estimated at over $500 million, which will find its way to hedge funds on Wall Street.
It is far more economical for Block Island residents to invest in energy conservation and renewable energy technology as part of a utility planning process, just like everyone else in Rhode Island does. These concepts along with electric rate design will benefit all, including BIPCo. The fact that the Town and BIPCo are lockstep in opposing these ideas is a problem that I believe needs to be addressed at the regulatory level. The hypocrisy of the Town, which on one hand talks and talks and talks about the environment and being “green,” and their failure to support even a letter of inquiry to the PUC about these programs should raise deep concern and lead to activism of every resident and ratepayer on Block Island. If I have to appear before the Ethics Commission for attempting to bring common sense to our energy situation, then so be it. In the meantime, buy an LED light bulb. They use one-eighth the energy of an incandescent, and half the energy of a compact fluorescent.