AUGUSTA – Chairman Kurt Adams of the Maine Public Utilities Commission is stepping down to work for a national wind development company.

Adams will leave the state’s utility regulatory panel on May 16. He’s to become senior vice president for transmission development at First Wind, formerly UPC Wind.

Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday he was accepting Adams’ resignation and naming Commissioner Sharon Reishus to take over as PUC chairman. Reishus has served on the commission since 2003.

Adams, who said he would be based in Maine, joined the PUC in 2005 after serving two years as Baldacci’s legal counsel. Previously, he specialized in energy affairs in private law practice.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Adams said in a telephone interview, adding that he had “really mixed feelings” about resigning from the commission.

“Kurt has led the PUC during a time when it has faced enormous challenges,” Baldacci said in a statement. “He has accomplished a tremendous amount and protected the public interest. Kurt has been an asset for the people of Maine.”

The governor’s office said a search for a new commissioner for the three-member panel will begin immediately. An appointee would complete the remainder of Adams’ term, which expires at the end of March 2011.

“Energy costs are one of the biggest problems facing businesses and families in Maine,” Baldacci said. “As I consider this appointment, I will be looking for someone who brings a keen understanding of business in Maine and who has the ability to analyze the complex financial transactions that come before the commission. I also need someone who will continue Kurt’s campaign to protect Maine’s energy sovereignty and to lower the cost of electricity.”

Commissioners are appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms.

“I’m sorry to see Kurt leave the PUC, but I know without reservation that Sharon will be a strong chairman. She is a proven, dedicated public servant with broad experience and expertise,” Baldacci said.

“I know that she will provide the leadership necessary to protect Mainers from unreasonable utility rates. She is a person of unquestionable personal and professional integrity, and I’m confident she will do a great job.”

Reishus worked on the PUC staff for most of a decade before joining a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Previously, Reishus was a planner for Central Maine Power Co.

In 1987 and 1988, Reishus was a senior duty officer with the National Security Council in Washington, where she led a team of intelligence analysts and briefed key officials, including the president, on foreign policy issues, according to her resume.

Reishus was an intelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1984-87.

A graduate of Stanford University, she has a master’s degree in strategic planning from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

UPC Wind, Based in Newton, Mass., announced Thursday it is changing its name to First Wind and said the name change will not affect the company’s organizational structure or day-to-day operations.

First Wind, in a separate statement, said Adams will be responsible primarily for the oversight and implementation of transmission planning for its operating and development projects.

“We are very excited to welcome Kurt to our team, and we know that his immense experience will help advance the transmission efforts for our projects across North America,” said Paul Gaynor, president and chief executive officer of First Wind.

“Through his most recent work as chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, Kurt has a great working knowledge of the issues facing the wind industry. Kurt is now part of our senior management team; we look forward to his leadership in implementing creative transmission solutions across our operating and development portfolio.”

As an outspoken critic of “inequities that exist for Maine” within the regional power grid managed by ISO New England, Adams was praised Thursday by Anthony Buxton, a prominent lawyer and lobbyist who represents large industrial energy consumers.

“He is the most significant public official in the state in terms of defending consumers, and his loss is enormous,” Buxton said.

Baldacci’s statement credited Adams with promoting energy efficiency and working to achieve consensus on a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The governor’s office also lauded Adams for working to expand cell phone coverage and noted that he led the PUC during the merger of Fairpoint Communications and Verizon.

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