Maine Public Utilities Commission

Recent Stories

LePage, utilities commissioner conflict over conflicts only partially resolved

A conflict over ethics between Gov. Paul LePage and a member of the state’s Public Utilities Commission has been settled in the short term, but threatens to produce more controversy over the long term. Continue Reading →

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LePage, utilities commissioner at odds over ethics

Gov. Paul LePage has rejected Public Utilities Commissioner David Littell’s decision to recuse himself from voting on a case involving bottled water giant Nestle Waters and the Fryeberg Water Co. Littell claims he has a conflict of interest because he previously worked at a Portland law firm that represented Nestle and the water company. Lepage says that isn’t enough to disqualify him for voting on the case. Continue Reading →

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Public advocate reverses position on giant wind energy deal

The state public advocate’s office, which represents the interests of utility customers in Maine, has withdrawn its opposition to a multimillion-dollar transaction to build wind turbines across Maine and the Northeast.

The move was made, said Public Advocate Timothy Schneider, after his office reviewed its previous position and decided that the deal would neither undermine state utility regulation nor would it threaten ratepayers with higher energy prices. Continue Reading →

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Energy firms announced deal despite risk posed by legal appeal

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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Utility regulators used broad authority in approving wind deal

The Maine Public Utilities Commission recently issued a decision in a hotly contested case allowing Emera, the Nova Scotia company that owns Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service, to create a new company with First Wind, a major wind power developer. The three-member regulatory body decided that the economic development benefits of the project had so much potential that they could approve it while imposing enough conditions to protect utility customers. In its decision, the PUC went against the recommendations of its own experienced staff and all of the parties to the case, other than the applicants.  Those parties, including the Maine Public Advocate, represented utility customers and the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator, the neutral body responsible for maintaining electric reliability in northern Maine. According to a report by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a principal focus of the PUC decision was the potential the new entity would have for creating jobs in Maine, perhaps more than any other development now on the horizon.  Though Maine’s unemployment rate is well below the national level, job creation remains near the top of voters’ concerns. That the PUC should give economic considerations great weight while finding that its conditions were sufficient to provide consumer protection reflects a broad view of its mandate. Continue Reading →

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Multi-million-dollar wind deal approved by state regulators

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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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

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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What Maine could do to minimize winter power outages

In the last three months, three storms have blacked out tens of thousands of electric customers in New England. Mayors can lose elections because of poor snow plowing, but can utility executives lose their jobs because of power outages? The president of Connecticut Light & Power, the largest electric company in the Nutmeg State, found out.  He was forced to resign after his company was slow to return homes to service and gave misleading information about when the lights would come on again following the Halloween storm. His fate illustrates just how serious the problem of frequent storm-related outages has become. Power lines are vulnerable.  Usually breaking or grounding a single strand of relatively thin, bare wire is all it takes to cause an outage.  Telephone lines are insulated, so they are far less vulnerable to breaking and can even support more weight than most local power lines. Continue Reading →

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Adams Investigation Finds No Conflict

An investigation by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has concluded that the state’s former chief utilities regulator, Kurt Adams, broke no laws when he accepted a job offer and securities from a prominent wind power developer while still head of his agency. A citizens’ group had asked the attorney general to investigate Adams, the former Public Utilities Commission Chairman, after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported that he had been granted 1.2 million units of equity in wind power company First Wind while he was still on the state’s payroll in April, 2008. First Wind constructs, operates and owns wind turbines across the country, including farms at Mars Hill and at Stetson Mountain. Two other projects are planned for Maine in Oakfield and Rollins Mountain in Lincoln. Adams left the commission in May 2008 to work as senior vice president for First Wind and said the stock options — which First Wind called “equity units” in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission — “had no value at all,” and thus should not trigger state conflict of interest or improper gift laws. Continue Reading →

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