AUGUSTA – Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s appointees to the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal to make public the growing number of “grading schemes” used to judge energy projects’ economic benefits for ratepayers.

David Littell, the sole remaining appointee of LePage’s Democratic predecessor, asked his fellow commissioners to unveil price projection models used to decide energy contracts in the name of transparency, arguing that secret forecasting models allow regulators to justify votes without any public scrutiny.

“There is no accountability for some of the most important decisions the commission is making on the appropriate investment to reduce the price of energy,” he said.

Chairman Mark Vannoy said that releasing the pricing projections, which are not even provided to bidding companies, would hurt the commission’s ability to negotiate the best contract. Commissioner Carlie McLean, LePage’s former chief legal counsel who joined the three-member panel earlier this year, also voted against Littell’s motion.

“The staff doesn’t reveal our forecasts to the bidders, but instead uses our forecasts in order to try to negotiate the best contract possible or Maine consumers,” Vannoy said. “It would seem strange to me that in any point in that process would the commission want its forecast released to the bidder or the public.”

Littell said the number of pricing scenarios that the commission uses to analyze projects has grown from just a few several years ago to 13 today. Maine ratepayers deserve to know which projections were used in approving natural gas or wind power projects in the state, he said.

“It’s completely opaque to the public, and in fact some of the parties in the case, which scenarios we are relying on,” he said.

The executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, Jeremy Payne, said that having so many energy forecasting models creates confusion. One wind power company announced Monday that it was abandoning negotiations with the PUC after a previously approved power purchase agreement was reopened to apply new price projections.

“Bidders are going to stop bidding if it’s a moving target. That’s not just a loss for energy developers – it’s a loss potentially for ratepayers,” Payne said.

Vannoy and McLean said they understand the importance of transparency but stressed that the information needs to be released in way that doesn’t hamper negotiations.

Vannoy recommended that the commission explore the best approach for potentially releasing the pricing forecasts in the future that balances transparency, the commission’s bargaining position and accountability.

LePage announced Monday that he has nominated Bruce Williamson, an economist from the University of Tennessee, to replace Littell on the commission. Littell’s term expired in March, but he’s on the panel until his replacement is confirmed. Williamson will have to be confirmed by the state Senate in the coming weeks.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.