Maine utility regulators keep wind power negotiations alive
AUGUSTA, MAINE >> Utility regulators moved one step closer Wednesday to entering into a long-term contract with developers hoping to sell power generated by a wind project in Somerset County.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 to modify and approve the terms of an agreement with NextEra Energy Resources LLC to ensure that the state is getting the best deal. If the company agrees to the new conditions, a contract will be drafted and sent to the commission for final approval.
The commission approved the terms for the Highland Wind project and another one in December, but voted two months later to reconsider those decisions in light of changes in the energy market.
Environmental groups and wind industry officials blasted that move, saying it would send the message to future investors that Maine doesn't honor its businesses agreements. The decision prompted SunEdison to withdraw a proposal earlier this month for a long-term contract for a project in Hancock County.
Chairman Mark Vannoy, who voted against the project Wednesday, said it's too risky and won't lower residents' electricity rates in the long term.
"While we as a commission have the authority to enter into long-term contracts, it is not always prudent to exercise that authority, and I believe that this is an instance where restraint is the correct approach," Vannoy said.
The prices being offered by NextEra remain confidential. But the company's initial term sheet that was made public after winning initial approval in December said the electricity produced would have cost less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour, which supporters said would save ratepayers tens of millions of dollars over the life of the contract.
Commissioner Carlie McLean joined outgoing Commissioner David Littell in agreeing to move forward with the contract. McLean said her support is contingent on the company agreeing to several changes to the terms, including a further price reduction.
"Each and every one of these contracts should be the very best for the ratepayer, and my analysis leads me to believe that this project is headed in that direction," McLean said.
The commission also voted 2-1 on Wednesday to reject a request to reconsider an earlier decision that could greatly reduce funding for energy efficiency programs.
Lawmakers had intended for one source of funding for Efficiency Maine to be about $60 million, but there was a typo in the complex funding formula in the law passed in 2013. The commission interpreted that formula to mean that funding should be capped at about $22 million.
The Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals petitioned the commission to reconsider the decision.
But Vannoy and McLean voted against the motion, saying the language in the statute is clear and that nothing has changed since their initial vote to make them change their mind.
A bill that would fix the typo and restore the funding is moving forward in the Legislature.
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