AUGUSTA – A former chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission won a legislative panel’s recommendation Wednesday for confirmation as a University of Maine System trustee.

Kurt Adams of Yarmouth, now an executive vice president for the wind energy company First Wind, overcame opposition from wind energy opponents and those who are skeptical about how he has dealt with perceived conflicts of interest.

The Legislature’s Education Committee voted 7-3 Wednesday in favor of Adams’ appointment to the university system’s board. The Senate will consider his nomination in a special session Aug. 25.

Adams told lawmakers that his experience managing budgets and seeing First Wind through the recession would serve him well on the 16-member University of Maine System Board of Trustees.

Gov. John Baldacci announced Adams’ nomination earlier this month. Adams was Baldacci’s chief legal counsel from 2003 to 2005, when he was appointed to the PUC. He left that position in May 2008 to work for First Wind.

But his exit was clouded by perceived conflicts of interest.

He said he left the position after Central Maine Power Co. proposed routes for new transmission lines that would have put power lines behind his house. The company also presented alternative maps, Adams said, that would have sent transmission lines near others’ properties.

“I called my lawyer and said, ‘I may or may not have a conflict,’ and said, ‘I want to retain you to advise me,’” Adams told lawmakers Wednesday.

Neither Adams’ lawyer nor the attorney general decided there was a conflict that would warrant Adams’ walking off the job. But Adams decided differently.

“I did not believe that the appearance of a conflict of interest would go away,” he said. “I chose to leave my job. That’s how I deal with conflicts.”

In April, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported that Adams received an equity stake in First Wind — which the company said has no value — in April 2008, the month before his departure from the PUC.

Adams had begun recusing himself from First Wind-related matters in 2007, the report said.

The Attorney General’s Office found last month that Adams violated no laws by accepting a job offer and First Wind equity while still on the state payroll.

Since leaving the PUC, Adams hasn’t dealt with the commission on First Wind’s behalf, to avoid conflicts, said Faith Huntington, director of the commission’s electric and gas division.

Adams told lawmakers that he wouldn’t run into conflicts as a university trustee.

“They’re trying to get new technologies to work in an offshore environment to grow Maine’s economy,” he said of university researchers. “We’re not in that business.”

Still, not all lawmakers on the Education Committee were satisfied.

Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, said committee members received e-mails from wind energy opponents and others opposing Adams’ nomination.

“I’m not sure that it’s enough that there be no conflict,” said Rep. Edward Finch, D-Fairfield. “It’s important that there be no appearance of conflict.”

Finch and Weston opposed the nomination, along with Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville.

Adams’ nomination was one of 11 the Education Committee considered on Wednesday, including acting Education Commissioner Angela Faherty’s nomination to be education commissioner. Committee members unanimously approved all but Adams’ nomination.


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