Maine's Public Utilities Commission is supposed to be an independent quasi-judicial body that ensures reliable utility service and fair rates for Maine consumers. But Richard Silkman says he's becoming increasingly worried about influence peddling by current and former members of Gov. John Baldacci's administration.
Silkman, a former state planning director under Republican Gov. John McKernan, wants the PUC to consider his own solar power project as an alternative to CMP'S. But just as the three-member PUC commission prepares to review CMP's application, the future makeup of the panel remains uncertain.
Commissioner Sharon Reishus's term of office has expired, but she continues to serve as chair until she is reappointed or a replacement is named. The Baldacci administration has been weighing Reishus's reappointment for the last six months and Silkman fears she is caught in a power play over the CMP upgrade plan that Gov. John Baldacci favors.
"It doesn't take six months to evaluate those kinds of credentials. She hasn't been reappointed. We're concerned about what the quid pro quo is," Silkman says.
On top of that, Silkman says Baldacci and his former chief advisor, Jack Cashman, who now serves as a PUC commissioner, became overly involved in the case during a recent trade visit to Spain when the Governor, Cashman and other members of the delegation toured facilities operated by Iberdrola, which owns Energy East, the parent company of Central Maine Power.
"You know, Commissioner Cashman went to Spain, he didn't have to go to Spain and Germany to see wind turbines, there are turbines in Maine," Silkman says. "He didn't have to go to talk about transmission opportunities in Maine, in fact he should never have talked about transmission opportunities -- he sits on the cases. It was an unnecessary trip, and so when we see these kinds of things, we get concerned, and that's why we're trying to push the Commission to litigate this case."
"These claims are outrageous, on the very surface," says David Farmer, a Baldacci spokesman. Farmer says there was nothing sinister about the delay over the reposting or replacement of Sharon Reishus. Instead, he says Silkman is simply trying to advance his solar power project by casting doubt about the integrity of the state's regulatory process.
"We know that Mr. Silkman has a project that he would like to see earn support, and instead of looking out for what's best for the people of Maine, I think instead Mr. Silkman is looking out for what's best for himself, and is trying to align his own project with a different project," Farmer says. "I don't think there's any question that the PUC will act fairly, and I think that Chairman Reishus and the other members of the Commission are up to the task of determining the correct path for Maine."
"Discussions like this are a frequent part of the process, and our real goal is to see that we can move ahead in a timely manner with some of the more critical elements of our project and the settlement is probably the best and quickest way to get there," says John Carroll, a spokesman for Central Maine Power Company.
Carroll is not overly concerned about the political overtones that are playing out in the background as his company attempts to secure approval for its major transmission upgrade project. In fact, he says, the solar power proposal advanced by Silkman is worth discussing within the context of the state's future power needs. Carroll is hopeful that a settlement can be reached.
Richard Davies, Maine's Public Advocate, is equally optimistic, and he says his office will play a significant role in that process.
"From here on, we will be involved in discussions when they go into confidential session about a possible settlement once the Commission staff has presented their proposal for a settlement," Davies says. "We haven't seen it yet, we have no idea what they're going to have included in that, but this will offer us an opportunity to ask the staff some questions to get a better feel for what they have in mind."
The PUC is preparing for formal hearings in February on CMP's proposal.