The Christening of the University of Maine’s VolturnUS floating offshore wind turbine and platform in Brewer, Maine in 2013. The groundbreaking technology is the first of it’s kind in the Americas. Gov. Puaul LePage’s switch in renewable energy policies make it more difficult to find investors for these kinds of projects that could be deployed worldwide bringing thousands of jobs to Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
The Maine Public Utilities Commission is planning to reconsider two proposed wind projects shortly after a few changes in the commission's members and leadership. These long-term wind energy contracts would bring new business to the state and potentially lower electric prices for Maine consumers by $69 million. They would also energize rural communities in Hancock and Somerset counties that are still struggling from the Great Recession.
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) plans on Wednesday to vote on whether it should reassess these two projects that had already received initial approval.
“Remember, uncertainty is the enemy of investment and the PUC should not be creating a shroud of uncertainty around this and future energy RFPs. Quite simply, it would be bad public policy. It’s not easy attracting investment dollars to Maine and creating a practice of reneging on commitments will only make it more difficult,” said Jackson Parker, president and CEO of Reed & Reed, a Woolwich-based wind development company.
The commission's membership has changed since the initial vote was made in December of 2014, with former Chairman Tom Welch being replaced by Carlie McLean, Gov. Paul LePage's former chief legal counsel, and Mark Vannoy is now the new chairman.
The move, which has created new concerns for Maine's wind industry, is considered unusual. The PUC officially said it wants to reexamine the projects because of energy market changes.
"It seems like there is political interference underway," said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
The newly-structured PUC is likely to reopen the bidding process for the contracts, a move that could further damage the state’s reputation and scare away future projects. In 2013 Gov. LePage essentially ended a major multi-million dollar deal with Norwegian company, Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine. Statoil had begun their plans for an off-shore wind farm, in Maine, having received the PUC green light to move forward. But unexpected policy changes pushed by LePage ended the deal. Statoil took its investments to Scotland, leaving behind unfulfilled jobs and doubt about Maine’s renewable energy policy stability.
“The governor is putting at risk strong investments in renewable energy that could improve our economy and lower energy prices for Maine businesses and families. He is also sending the wrong message to potential investors, businesses and job-seekers that we should be trying to attract to Maine,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett, who also was a State Senator and helped establish renewable energy policy. “It would be very troubling if the PUC caved to political pressure and reversed its decision. The PUC is an independent agency that should follow the law and not the governor's ideological campaign against renewable energy.”