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Key Lawmakers Call on PUC to Release UMaine Wind Project Details
09/20/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The chairs of the Legislature's Energy and Utilities Committee have joined a growing chorus of those asking the Maine Public Utilities Commission to make details of a proposed University of Maine demonstration offshore wind project public. The chairs say because taxpayer money is involved in the project, transparency is essential to regulators' decision-making. Susan Sharon reports.

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Key Lawmakers Call on PUC to Release UMaine Wind P Listen

The University of Maine and several business partners are in competition for the offshore wind demonstration project with Norwegian energy giant Statoil. Earlier this year the Maine PUC approved terms for Statoil to undertake the project. But then lawmakers agreed to re-open the bidding process to the University of Maine.

Because Statoil and the UMaine venture, known as Maine Aqua Ventus, are also competing for federal energy grants, and because several other deepwater wind proposals are vying for the funding, UMaine has chosen to keep its plan private. Statoil chose to release many of the details of its plan. And now members of the Energy and Utilities Committee are calling on the PUC to intervene.

"We think this is a unique situation of public interest and transparency," says Democratic Rep. Barry Hobbins. In a meeting with PUC Chair Tom Welch, Hobbins said the nature of the project, and the public's interest in it, makes this a unqiue situation for regulators.

"It is, in a way, different because of the fact that this involves a public-private partnership involving taxpayer money," Hobbins says.

Hobbins and his committee co-chair, Democratic Sen. John Cleveland, said they have written a letter to the PUC, formally asking for project details to be shared. At issue is how much consumers can expect to pay for energy generated from the project.

Hobbins says he understands that satisfying the public's interest, and protecting confidential, proprietary information, is a "delicate balance." Environmental groups have also asked for the details, and so has an attorney for Statoil.

Chairman Welch says says the Commission generally has a very strong preference for making public as much as it can without compromising sensitive commercial information.

"There's some things where I can envision, yeah, it makes sense to keep it confidential," he says. "But our preference always is to be as transparent as possible, and to have people make as much public as possible."

Welch says this is not the first time the PUC has had to evaluate claims of confidentiality. He says commissioners will consider seriously the request to require some, or all, of the information to be made public. Final review is expected by the end of December.


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