LePage team worked against wind project

AUGUSTA (AP) — Before its public push to have Maine reconsider wind energy proposals, Gov. Paul LePage's administration worked behind the scenes to explicitly derail Norwegian company Statoil's multimillion-dollar agreement with the state for an offshore wind project, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

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The first public word that the administration was trying to reopen bids for the wind energy project came in June. Yet before that, officials went a step further and sought to void Norwegian company's agreement in order to "stop the Statoil project," the governor's top energy official, Patrick Woodcock, wrote in a May email.

Administration officials had said publicly that they wanted to reopen bidding to allow the University of Maine to get into the action. LePage signed legislation to do so in June, prompting Statoil to put the project on hold and consider other locations for its $120 million project.

But, according to a memo Woodcock wrote that month, the administration had initially floated "a much more aggressive effort to explicitly void" Statoil's agreement. In effect, the state would limit the amount that home and business owners would pay for the project to about half of what Statoil had proposed.

The AP reviewed hundreds of emails and documents related to Statoil's project obtained through the Freedom of Access Act from the governor's office, the Public Utilities Commission, and the University of Maine system. The documents provide a glimpse into negotiations over the wind project among administration officials, lawmakers, lawyers and other stakeholders.

The administration's maneuvering to scuttle an agreement between state regulators and Statoil set a dangerous precedent and calls into question the Republican administration's interest in cultivating an offshore wind industry, lawmakers and industry officials have said.

"The message that was sent was that you can't depend on the state of Maine to keep their commitments," said Jack Cashman, former chairman of the utilities commission, of the state's reopening of the bidding process.

Statoil, one of the world's largest energy companies and the first to deploy an offshore wind turbine four years ago, won approval in January to put four wind turbines 12 miles off Boothbay Harbor on floating structures tethered to the seabed. The spinning blades would generate electricity to be sent to Maine homes and businesses.

Maine leads New England in wind power and state officials had expressed hope that Statoil's project would help the state become even more prominent in offshore projects, the prospect of which has been subject to a lot of talk but little action in the U.S.

At the time, renewable energy industry officials praised the project's approval, saying it would create jobs and provide an opportunity for other companies to work with Statoil.

By contrast, LePage opposed the project because utility customers would be on the hook for nearly $200 million in subsidies.

Enter the University of Maine.

The school is competing with Statoil for a $50 million federal energy grant and feared that the awarding the wind project to the Norwegian company might put the university at a disadvantage to win the money.

If UMaine were to bid for and win the wind project, it would be better positioned to get the grant, and LePage's administration could keep the wind project's money in Maine.

In an interview, Woodcock said that initial effort to derail Statoil's proposal also would have provided an opportunity for the university to submit a bid while allowing Statoil to redo its own.

But questions arose about why UMaine would even want to compete for the project because of concerns about its ability to match Statoil's expertise and background in wind energy. University officials say they have teamed up with strong companies and are capable of advancing their project.

The reopening of the bidding process calls into question whether LePage wanted to scuttle the efforts by both Statoil and UMaine in an effort to stymie offshore wind projects altogether, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Woodcock defended the administration's efforts, saying the "exceptional circumstances" required it to take action to help the university.

"It really was a unique situation and I think this competition will allow us to have a healthy debate about the direction of Maine's offshore wind industry," Woodcock said.

But Cashman said the administration's meddling in the work of state regulators, who are authorized by law to approve an offshore wind pilot project, sets a treacherous example for future dealings between the state and the private sector.

"That is an absolutely horrible precedent and it is an even more horrible message that we have sent to the business community internationally," said Cashman, who was appointed under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci after he served as commissioner for the state's economic development agency.

Thomas Welch, the utility commission's current chairman, said he did not find legislation that affects the commission's work to be a concern.

"The Legislature actually creates the (commission) and can tell us what to do, so I don't have an opinion on that," he said.

The university submitted its proposal this month, but it remains confidential, as is allowed under the utilities commission's procedures. State regulators are expected to decide on the two proposals by the end of the year.

Statoil officials say the company is now looking to other countries, like Scotland, as possible site locations, but has not yet ruled out Maine as home for its project.

But the documents show that, at the time, Statoil officials saw the renewed bidding process as a poison pill.

In a June email to a leader of UMaine's project, a Statoil lawyer wrote:

"I'm reasonably sure you already know this, but I want to be absolutely certain you hear it from me. If the ... amendment is adopted, Statoil will have no choice but to take its investment elsewhere."

Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The country's first floating wind turbine, the University of Maine's 9,000-pound prototype, generates power off the coast of Castine. Records show Gov. Paul LePage’s administration was working behind the scenes to derail Norwegian company Statoil’s proposal for an offshore wind project that’s projected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to the state.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

As Maine goes

If the state of Texas had decided not to drill for oil because they would end up selling it rather than using it and because those rigs would mar the landscape the history of this country would be very different. And there would be a lot of poor people in Texas rather than a bunch of billionaires. We don't have oil in Maine but we do have wind and clean energy is going to be the oil well of the future. It is also narrow minded to think that the demand for energy will remain as it is in this country. You can just as easily imagine a growing demand with electric cars and a growing economy. For Maine to turn its back on the wind industry whether financed here or abroad is just as dumb as it would be for Texas folks to sit on their oil wells while living in poverty. And as for Maine subsidizing an out of state coal industry to produce clean coal pellets, that is truly as way to keep money with the one percent while they prey on our workers with their usual low wages and our natural resources with likely pollution.

Bob White's picture

Yea I think it would be bad

Yea I think it would be bad that a American company would get the work.

Of course LePage tried to kill it...

Because, you know, we're Open For Business. This should be a billboard sized message to any other out of state (and out of country) business that the Governor keeps saying he's pursuing: sure, make a proposal, we'll find a way to legislatively kill it.

Gerry Thompson's picture

Rates

going up is not business friendly. High costs here drive business away

JOANNE MOORE's picture

$200 million dollar subsidy.

AND our rates would go up. AND nobody has said how this would affect the fishing industry. AND all the power from these things do NOT go to Maine customers. We would be paying more so that other states could say they were using "green" energy. Hell, we export power now, why do we need these things dotting the landscape? We don't!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Joanne, I'm no expert here, but..............

Joanne, I'm no expert here, but I think you may have allowed preconceived anger to take over. First of all, no state is so self sufficient that it exports their excess energy. This power would be sold, either here in Maine or elsewhere. That is how these operations make a profit.
You need to calm down, take a few deep breaths. Also you should keep in mind, that there aren't to many off shore wind turbines "dotting the landscape". We alone would have the bragging rights to using green energy, unless someone else uses it then they would have the rights.
Now that we have Joanne back on solid ground, lets talk about this whole bidding process. I'm assuming the procedure is the same as other bidding proposals, therefore I see a huge indication of a conflict of interest. How can the Governors office derail one bidding entity in favor of a State University. Isn't that sort of like asking daddy for help with a big bad bully. It just seems to me, a company willing to pour millions of dollars into the State, create jobs, and supply us with renewable energy in a clean efficient and affordable manner, kind of puts U Maine out in left field, unless, of course, you can get the Governor to even the playing field. If nothing else, it sets a bad example to future companies wishing to do business in, and have to compete with, Maine owned entities.....

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Frank, I'm no "expert" either, but.........

I have been studying this boondoggle for years. At first I was thinking it was a wonderful, green alternative. After over 5 years I have come to some very scarey conclusions. Wind power is a scam. It is not green. It is environmentally distructive. It does not produce anywhere near the power to make it a viable alternative.
One of the components of wind, the nacelle (which houses the motor) is made up of very temperamental parts needing oil and other fluids which leak, into the ocean or onto the land and into groundwater. And every one of these things needs rare earth compounds, 99 percent coming from China. In fact, China makes most of the nacelles because of this and they do not have the regulations to keep this from becoming another environmentally poisonous industry.
Because windpower is not a steady source, backup power substations must be constantly "on". That is, because the grid must maintain a steady power stream, other forms of power, coal or oil, must be used during times when the wind doesn't blow, (think a hot August afternoon when everyone has the air conditioning on). These substations must be ready within seconds of switching on which means they must be kept running. Sort of like keeping your car running in neutral during the winter so that it will remain warm and ready - a terrible waste of energy and $$$$$. And of course there is the waste of energy in the nacelle itself, keeping it warm with electricity and lighting.
A couple of years ago I was part of a group that debated the pros and cons of windpower in a public forum. I wasn't chosen because of any "preceived anger" but because I was and am very well informed and had written and had published my knowledge of the subject. There were 4 pro wind and 4 anti wind. Ex Governor King was on the pro wind side, of course. He and his partner, Rob Gardiner made millions flim flamming the public. I must say that when the evening was over, there were a good many people come up to me, thank me and tell me they had no idea the distructiveness of the wind power industry has on our environment.
Until there is a way to store the fickle trickle of electricity these things make so that it can be used as a constant source of power, wind will always be a no win for the environment as well as the ratepayers.

Jeff Wilkins's picture

Some good points...

There are some good points there, however I think you're missing the big picture. The more we use wind power, the better we'll get at it. No, it's not perfect now and yes, there's certainly a questionable return on the investment. However, it's in infant stages and should only get better. It's also about reducing our dependence on other forms of power that are even more destructive.

GARY SAVARD's picture

The article says that

The article says that ratepayers would be on the hook for $200 million invested in the project by the Swedish company. If indeed that is true, and we end up paying higher electric rates, which at this point know one knows for sure, then the greenest thing from this project will be the cash flowing out of ratepayer pockets.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Oops! "Norwegian" company.

Oops! "Norwegian" company. Bad geography.

SCOTT THISTLE's picture
staff

This is Norway . . .

Tony Morin's picture

Funny stuff!

Funny stuff!

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