September 22, 2013

AP: Records show Maine gov. tried to jam wind plan

By ALANNA DURKIN, The Associated Press

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The country's first floating wind turbine, the University of Maine's 9,000-pound prototype, generates power off the coast of Castine. Records show Gov. Paul LePage’s administration was working behind the scenes to derail Norwegian company Statoil’s proposal for an offshore wind project that’s projected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to the state.


But questions arose about why UMaine would even want to compete for the project because of concerns about its ability to match Statoil's expertise and background in wind energy. University officials say they have teamed up with strong companies and are capable of advancing their project.

The reopening of the bidding process calls into question whether LePage wanted to scuttle the efforts by both Statoil and UMaine in an effort to stymie offshore wind projects altogether, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Woodcock defended the administration's efforts, saying the "exceptional circumstances" required it to take action to help the university.

"It really was a unique situation and I think this competition will allow us to have a healthy debate about the direction of Maine's offshore wind industry," Woodcock said.

But Cashman said the administration's meddling in the work of state regulators, who are authorized by law to approve an offshore wind pilot project, sets a treacherous example for future dealings between the state and the private sector.

"That is an absolutely horrible precedent and it is an even more horrible message that we have sent to the business community internationally," said Cashman, who was appointed under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci after he served as commissioner for the state's economic development agency.

Thomas Welch, the utility commission's current chairman, said he did not find legislation that affects the commission's work to be a concern.

"The Legislature actually creates the (commission) and can tell us what to do, so I don't have an opinion on that," he said.

The university submitted its proposal this month, but it remains confidential, as is allowed under the utilities commission's procedures. State regulators are expected to decide on the two proposals by the end of the year.

Statoil officials say the company is now looking to other countries, like Scotland, as possible site locations, but has not yet ruled out Maine as home for its project.

But the documents show that, at the time, Statoil officials saw the renewed bidding process as a poison pill.

In a June email to a leader of UMaine's project, a Statoil lawyer wrote:

"I'm reasonably sure you already know this, but I want to be absolutely certain you hear it from me. If the ... amendment is adopted, Statoil will have no choice but to take its investment elsewhere."

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