Sunday, March 9, 2014
When Angus King launched his wind energy business in 2007, the notion of clean power was gaining popularity and the former governor was eager to be its pitchman.
File photo / The Associated Press
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King remains positive about his support for wind power. “I was trying to do something I thought was good for Maine and the country, and for these people to imply there was something wrong or nefarious just isn’t right,” he says.
2012 Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo
"I'm excited about it," King said at the time. "I hope it's a positive experience for us and for Maine."
King is still positive about wind power, and many other Mainers are, too. But five years later, King is in the less exciting position of defending his wind career.
Today there are websites devoted to fighting wind farms, and support of renewable energy has become a partisan issue in a tense presidential election year.
The biggest change, however, is that King is running for higher office, and he could end up being the one man standing in the way of a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. Polls earlier this summer showed he has a significant lead over his opponents, Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill.
Republicans have intensified their criticism of King as the developer of a taxpayer-subsidized wind farm. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending $600,000 to broadcast a new television ad saying King used political connections to win a "sketchy" federal loan guarantee and build an industrial wind farm.
King and his former business partner dismissed the Republican attacks as baseless in interviews last week.
The wind farm they built in Oxford County is a model project that is producing clean energy, paying back its loan and rewarding the community with free power and lower taxes, they said. And King maintains he did not personally receive any taxpayer money for his role in the project.
"I got zero federal dollars. None," he said. "I was trying to do something I thought was good for Maine and the country, and for these people to imply there was something wrong or nefarious just isn't right."
Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said regardless of whether or not King used connections, he needs to answer for using taxpayer money to support a business that doesn't deserve it.
"Republicans tend to believe in free enterprise. If you could go out and build a wind farm and not have taxpayers' money involved, we would support that," Webster said. "It's a scheme. It's not something that will ever make a profit (on its own), or something that taxpayers should support."
King was an energy entrepreneur before he was a politician. He worked in the hydro field and founded an energy conservation business, which he sold before becoming governor in 1995.
In 2007, four years after King left the governor's office, he and Rob Gardiner, former president of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, formed a new company, Brunswick-based Independence Wind.
King said they believed they could develop clean energy without the environmental conflicts and complaints that accompanied other early projects.
"It was a business so there was some hope anyway that we could make some money on it. But in 2007, these were two guys trying to figure out how to do wind right, in effect," King said.
Independence Wind's first project was Record Hill, a 22-turbine 50-megawatt wind farm in the Oxford County community of Roxbury.
Independence Wind became a partner in a new company, Record Hill Wind, along with Wagner Forest Management and other investors. King and Gardiner held a combined 10 percent share of Record Hill Wind.
Independence Wind also earned $50,000 a year in management fees to move the project through local and state permitting process, they said.
The majority investors were in charge of the financing, which in 2007 seemed like the easy part, King said. "It was the least of our worries," he said.
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