A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE'S WIND ACT

An ongoing series revealing the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to one the biggest changes in the last decade in Maine’s land use regulations — and the aftermath of those changes.

Recent Stories

PUC ponders what’s next for multimillion-dollar wind deal vacated by court

Turbines at Northeast Wind's Mars Hill Project

Now what?

That’s the question being asked by regulators, utilities and representatives of one of the biggest business deals to hit the state in a long time, after Maine’s high court invalidated regulatory approval of that deal.

The deal is a complex transaction, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to build wind turbines across the region. Continue Reading →

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High court overrules agency OK of multi-million-dollar wind energy deal

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, photo BDN

A 2012 deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars to expand wind energy projects across the Northeast was dealt a blow Tuesday by the Maine supreme court, which ruled that a state agency's approval of the complex deal was invalid. The transaction included prominent wind developer First Wind, Maine utility companies Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service and Nova Scotia-based electric utilities owner Emera, Inc. Continue Reading →

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Rural citizens lose battle to have say in wind tower rezoning

Sign at the intersection of Long Falls Dam and Sandy Stream roads, Highland Plantation

“I feel like a citizen who is seen to be of less value than my neighbors,” said Karen Bessey Pease, after Maine Senate Democrats Wednesday sidelined an effort to give her and other residents of the state’s most rural areas a say in whether wind towers are built in their communities.

“We just asked to have the same rights to determination of zoning issues in our community as our next-door neighbors have,” said Pease, of Lexington Township. “It’s very unfortunate that the Senate voted the way they did.” Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers want to restore rights to residents in wind tower zones

Legislators on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee discussing LD 616 during a break in a work session on June 4, 2013

A legislative committee today sided with residents in some of the state's western mountains in their fight to have more say over the construction of industrial wind towers in their backyards. If the full legislature approves the bill, it would be the first significant blow to the state's ambitious Wind Energy Act. Continue Reading →

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Wind power’s grip on Augusta weakening as ‘God’s Country’ presses its case

View of Bald Mountain from Highland Plantation

They came from the townships and plantations of Concord, Lexington, Highland, Carrying Place and Pleasant Ridge. They set out for the statehouse in Augusta from the five sparsely populated backcountry communities set between the Kennebec and Carrabassett rivers, from a wooded intervale etched by streams, dappled by lakes and cradled by the hills and mountains of western Maine. Continue Reading →

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Energy firms announced deal despite risk posed by legal appeal

Workers unload tower components for wind turbines in Searsport.  Photo Abigail Curtis, BDN

Less than two weeks ago, a Canadian energy company and a major wind power developer with turbines in Maine announced they had closed a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars to expand wind power projects across the Northeast. But the announcement left out one important fact that could jeopardize the deal: Legal appeals had been filed just days before by the state’s Office of the Public Advocate and a Maine utility company challenging a ruling by a state agency that cleared the way for the joint venture. “I was somewhat surprised” to see the announcement that the deal had closed, said Eric Bryant, the attorney in the Public Advocate’s office who filed one of the appeals. “It’s unusual for a company to make a decision when there’s risk involved that it may have to undo it because of a legal matter.”

The partnership is between Emera, a Canadian energy company that owns electric utilities in the Northeastern US, Atlantic Canada and elsewhere, and First Wind, which develops, constructs, operates and owns utility-scale wind projects across the United States and in Hawaii. First Wind is the Northeast’s largest wind power developer and has four major wind projects in Maine, with a fifth, Bull Hill, under construction. Continue Reading →

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Multi-million-dollar wind deal approved by state regulators

Paul Gaynor, First Wind CEO, signs one of the blades for a turbine erected in the Stetson Wind project expansion. Photo: Gabor Degre, BDN

State regulators on Tuesday approved a multi-million-dollar deal that could fund construction of hundreds of wind turbines in Maine and the Northeast, despite a staff recommendation to reject the proposal. All three members of the Public Utilities Commission voted for a complex series of transactions among First Wind, Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service and their parent, Nova Scotia-based Emera, Inc., and Ontario-based Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. The commissioners said the economic benefit of such investment was substantial, that any potential harm from the deal could be mitigated by PUC-imposed conditions and that the deal helped meet the ambitious goals of Maine’s 2008 Wind Power Act. Maine currently has 205 commercial wind turbines that can produce 400 megawatts of electricity. Tuesday’s deal could pave the way for construction of turbines producing an additional 1,200 megawatts. Continue Reading →

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Meeting land-based wind goals not likely, say two state studies

Some of TransCanada's 22 wind turbines on Kibby Mountain in northern Franklin County. Photo Sun Journal.

Maine will not be able to accomplish the state-mandated goals of building 2000 megawatts of wind power on land by 2015. That’s one conclusion of two studies issued this week by the governor’s energy office and an independent group of researchers. The studies also urged reconsideration of the landmark 2008 law that allowed wind turbines to be built in ecologically and scenically important areas of the state. “No one imagines that we’ll be meeting the goal at 2015,” said Stephen Ward, co-author of “Maine Wind Assessment 2012.”

“In order to meet the 2015 goal, at least 552 new turbines will have to be permitted and become operational by 2012, and – depending on the size of the turbines – potentially as many as 1,103 turbines will be needed,” Ward’s report states. The state is “making progress, though, in meeting the off-shore wind goals for 2020 and 2030,” says Ward’s report, although none are currently constructed. Continue Reading →

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PUC releases confidential transcript in wind energy case

A proposal for a joint venture that would undertake major construction of wind towers across the state and region has encountered more regulatory complications, a week after reports were published that state officials recommended the proposal be turned down.  

The state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was set to decide on Jan. 31 whether the proposal by First Wind, Emera Inc. (the Nova Scotia-based parent company of Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service) and Ontario-based Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. could move ahead. But that meeting has been indefinitely postponed while attorneys for the deal’s proponents and opponents wrestle over actions taken by First Wind and Bangor Hydro over the last week. Continue Reading →

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PUC staff: no-go for energy firms’ wind deal

GPaul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind, signs one of the windmill blades at the Stetson II wind project expansion in Township 8 Range 4 near Danforth. Photo Gabor Degre, BDN

Last April, Maine’s largest wind energy developer, First Wind, trumpeted a multimillion-dollar deal that would pay for the company’s ambitious plans to erect more wind turbines throughout Maine and the Northeast. But in just the last week,  the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) dealt a potentially fatal blow to the deal. Faced with what opponents have called the first serious challenge to the state’s landmark electricity deregulation

law, which went into effect in 2000, PUC staff on Jan. 13 recommended that the agency give the thumbs down to the deal. “We deny approval of the ‘proposed Transactions’ as we find that the risk of harm to ratepayers exceeds the benefits,” the draft decision reads, “even if conditions intended to mitigate the risk of harm to ratepayers were imposed.”

The recommendation, which will be considered and voted on by the three agency commissioners Jan. Continue Reading →

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