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

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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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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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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First Wind SEC filing change questioned

Business experts say that energy company First Wind was within its rights to amend an SEC filing last week to declare that it did not, as the company had previously stated in an earlier filing, award Public Utilities Commission Chairman Kurt Adams an ownership interest while he was on the state payroll, a possible violation of state law. But one expert says that the amendment, which came after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting published details of the grant to Adams, could itself raise questions with SEC regulators. “The SEC is fairly liberal in permitting parties to amend their disclosure document,” says securities law expert Manning G. Warren III, of the Louis S. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.  But the amended filing, says Warren, “suggests that the company is acknowledging a rather significant error in terms of granting him those restricted stocks while he was a public servant.”

First Wind is in the process of filing disclosure documents – called an “S1” — with the SEC prior to a public offering of stock to raise money for the company. “They’re trying to fix it for the sake of making sure that the investing public believes everything was done properly,” says Warren. “These filings go into the [SEC’s] division of corporation finance when there’s an amendment like this. Continue Reading →

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Group asks AG to probe official of First Wind

A citizens’ group has asked Maine’s Attorney General to investigate former Public Utilities Commission Chairman Kurt Adams after revelations that he accepted a grant of “equity units” in a wind power company while still on the state’s payroll.Adams left the commission in May 2008 to go to work as senior vice president for First Wind and said the equity units “had no value at all” and thus should not trigger state conflict of interest or improper gift laws. The two co-chairs of the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, Steve Thurston, a part-time resident of Roxbury, and Monique Aniel of Mexico, wrote the letter to Mills requesting the investigation. When the grant of equity shares to Adams was revealed, Thurston said he felt he had to act. “This is troubling to me,” he said. “Somebody needs to get to the bottom of this, these issues need to be investigated.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Janet Mills was noncommittal when asked whether the AG’s office is investigating Adams.

Kate Simmons at first said her office does not comment on current investigations. Continue Reading →

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PUC chairman took equity stake in wind company

AUGUSTA — While he was Maine’s chief utilities regulator, Kurt Adams accepted an ownership interest in a leading wind energy company. One month later, in May 2008, he went to work for that company, First Wind, as a senior vice president. The move from a state job to the private sector richly rewarded Adams: A “summary compensation table” in a recent SEC filing shows that Adams’s 2009 compensation of $1.3 million included $315,000 in salary, $658,000 in stock awards, $29,000 of “other” compensation and $315,000 in “non-equity incentives.” It’s not clear yet how much the ownership interest — 1.2 million units of equity — that Adams got while still at the commission is worth, since First Wind has not put a value on the equity units in its SEC filings. First Wind constructs, operates and owns wind turbines in the Northeast, the West and Hawaii. Continue Reading →

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