Monday, March 10, 2014
HALLOWELL — Selected information about a controversial offshore wind energy proposal must be made public this month, state utility regulators decided Tuesday, but details such as how much the electricity would cost or the developers’ financial capacity aren’t likely to be disclosed.
A lobster boat passes a floating wind turbine off the coast of Castine in September. The University of Maine’s 9,000-pound prototype has been generating power since the summer.
The Associated Press/ Robert F. Bukaty
By a 2-1 vote, the Maine Public Utilities Commission ordered a partnership led by the University of Maine to release an edited version of its plan to build a demonstration floating wind farm off the Maine coast. PUC Chairman Tom Welch was joined by David Littell in supporting the release. Mark Vannoy opposed it.
Commissioners said the partnership should get the information to the PUC staff by the end of next week, and work to release information that’s not deemed confidential by the end of October.
Public interest in the venture has been high because offshore wind power has been identified by its supporters as an emerging industry that could have a broad impact on the state’s economy and energy future. The first step is to prove the technology with pilot projects.
In making its ruling, the PUC backed a recommendation by Tim Schneider, the state’s public advocate, that PUC proceedings should be as open and transparent as possible while protecting commercially sensitive information.
Schneider said Tuesday that the commission seemed to strike a good balance, but he played down broad expectations.
“I’d be surprised, and even concerned, if the redacted version included any information about proposed rates or specific terms of any proposed contract or term sheet,” Schneider said. “ We’re hoping the commission staff will be negotiating those terms in order to get the best possible deal for Maine ratepayers. Maintaining the confidentiality of those negotiations helps them do that.”
The public could get a fuller picture of the project after Nov. 15. That’s when the PUC staff wants to make public a redacted term sheet – an edited contract – for the project.
The project is being developed under the name Maine Aqua Ventus I, GP, LLC. It comprises a partnership of a for-profit arm of the University of Maine, Maine-based Cianbro Corp. and the parent company of Bangor Hydro Electric Co., Emera Inc. of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
GENERATING 12 MEGAWATTS
The partners launched a one-eighth-scale prototype of their project in May off Castine. At full scale, a $96 million project off Monhegan Island would generate 12 megawatts – 12 million watts.
On Sept. 1, Maine Aqua Ventus submitted a highly anticipated proposal for its full-scale project to the PUC. Among other things, the proposal estimates what consumers can expect to pay for energy generated by wind off the Maine coast – at least in its developmental stages.
But the partnership withheld the entire 100-page document from public view. It said that disclosing the information would hurt the project’s chances by tipping off competitors.
During the PUC’s deliberations, Welch acknowledged that it’s an “unusual situation” for the PUC, in that Maine Aqua Ventus already has disclosed information that is rarely made public during bidding procedures, such as the names of the business partners.
He endorsed the public advocate’s idea of releasing edited material that doesn’t jeopardize the project, but offered his opinion that “a significant majority” of the proposal may have to remain under wraps.
Littell spoke in favor of disclosure, and went further. He estimated that only 1 or 2 percent of the proposal might be considered a trade secret or performance specification. Any redaction should apply to certain words, not entire documents, he said. He accused Maine Aqua Ventus of revealing its business partners as a sword to gain credibility, while using the PUC’s confidentiality rules as a shield to protect it against other disclosures.
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