There's another huge effort by the utility going on behind the scenes that you may not notice until it's too late. While the public approval process is going on, the utility is carrying out a very expensive influencing campaign, intended to hand them the approvals they need, even if your state/local entity is on the verge of denying their application. It's not about the public legal process going on at all, it's about the schmoozing and inducements going on in private back room meetings with your elected representatives, local Chambers of Commerce, business groups, the press, influential community members and government agencies. While you're putting your cash and effort toward a lawyer and experts, believing that you can win a respectable victory, the utility is working behind your back ensuring their ultimate victory by any means necessary. While the decision to approve the project is purportedly made by a PSC or other entity, ultimately it will come down to a political decision and your elected officials will be twisting the arms of the PSC to decide as they are told to decide.
The utility employs the seven common propaganda devices to develop champions for their project, both by applying direct pressure on the individuals and groups mentioned previously, and through a public relations and advertising campaign intended to drum up widespread public support. The support of "the public," whether real or manufactured, warms the vote-scrounging hearts of your elected officials. Utilities will create and support third party propaganda front groups pretending to represent "grassroots" support for their project; hold "educational" events in closed groups who have no prior knowledge about the project so that the utility's version of "the facts" is the only one presented; spread donations and "corporate stewardship" funds liberally to Chambers of Commerce and business groups; lobby elected representatives relentlessly (although they call this "education"); hold expensive "media events" where the press is presented with only the utility's cherry-picked version of "the facts"; hire influential, respected community leaders to be a part of their "team" at inflated "salaries" for the amount of make-work produced; and persuade government agencies to drop any opposition to the project by providing them with land, donations, economic development projects or other "inducements."
All of this influence-buying is quite expensive, but unlike any other corporate entity who would be required to cover the cost of approvals in the ultimate cost of their proposed product, the utility will be reimbursed for ALL expenses of their public relations campaign by electric customers through their electric bills. The total cost of utility influencing initiatives is often reimbursed as it's spent, long before a project is built, thanks to FERC-administered formula rates. There is no cap on the amount the utility can spend on this effort and PR totals are not considered as a part of project cost estimates, so they are free to spend whatever it takes to win approval.
So, how do you beat them at this game? No reason you can't run your own influencing campaign -- just be sure you get there first and keep everything out in the sunshine where everyone can see it. If you need more detail than that, you'll have to email me. I don't give away all the secrets here ;-)