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Possible Conflict for Maine PUC Commissioner
September 18, 2009   Reported By: Susan Sharon

This weekend Governor John Baldacci and a delegation of 23 other Mainers will depart for a trade mission to Spain and Germany. Their goal is to foster partnerships with European investors and to drum up business for Maine companies involved in the burgeoning wind energy industry. Maine businesses will underwrite most of the costs of the trip. But, one member of the Public Utilities Commission is also going along...and that's raising questions about a possible conflict.

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Cashman Trip Conflict
Originally Aired: 9/18/2009 5:30 PM
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 Duration:
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As a member of the Public Utilities Commission, Jack Cashman serves in a quasi-judicial capacity overseeing the delivery of service and the establishment of rates for electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and water utilities. He is, in a word, a regulator. He's also the former commissioner of economic and community development in Maine.

"I think it's always dangerous when officials that sit in a regulatory capacity or in a quasi-judicial capacity are involved in supporting activities that ultimately will come before them in one form or another."

Richard Silkman is a former state planning office director and founding partner of an energy project called GridSolar LLC.

"Jack has been very active in promoting Maine but I think his position on the Public Utilities Commission raises questions about whether it's advisable for him to accompany the governor on this effort."

"I don't think there's a conflict at all. "

David Farmer is a spokesman for the governor.

"The Public Utilities Commission is in a prime position to provide information about Maine's current transmission capacity and it's current power generation capacity and to answer questions about the environment in Maine for the expansion of renewable energy sector."

Among other things, Cashman will be meeting with representatives from Iberdrola, the Spanish parent company of Central Maine Power, which is undertaking a massive upgrade of its transmission lines. According to a news release issued by CMP last year, one of the reasons for the proposed upgrade is to improve access to southern Maine and New England markets for prospective wind developers. Janine Carey of the Maine International Trade Center, which is coordinating the trip, says she expects questions about transmission capacity will dominate Cashman's conversation with prospective wind partners.

"Any state's biggest challenge in terms of servicing these renewables is how do you tie them into the grid, what rate can you take them on by and what are you doing toward the future to accomodate them. So he's gonna play a pivotal role in terms of talking about what we're doing to poise for the future."

Governor Baldacci has also made wind develpment a policy priority. And that's another reason that Silkman, whose project is competing with CMP's, has concerns about the wind delegation's trip to Germany and Spain...two of the world's leaders in solar development.

"And that the governor is going over there and has expressed no interest in understanding how they have been successful in solar development and what kind of solar activities we can glean and learn from them...I think is unconscionable."

Two other sources contacted for this story declined to be identified or to talk on tape. Both said they were uncomfortable because they did not want to compromise their own business before Cashman and the PUC. Both also said they thought it was unwise for a PUC commissioner to serve on the wind delegation. One person compared it to a judge in an asbestos litigation case making a presentation to some asbestos manufacturers. But Peter Bradford, a former chair of both Maine's and New York State's Public Utilities Commission and a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there are clear boundaries that Cashman can follow.

"My feeling as a regulator and someone who is still involved alot with regulation is that what's important is for commissioners to keep a balanced calendar and to avoid doing the things which are really improper which is to: communicate about pending cases with people who have a stake in them or taking paid travel or paid gifts of any kind from the industries they regulate."

By "balanced caldendar" Bradford says he means giving industry, environmental and consumer interests equal time on his schedule. Unlike Governor Baldacci whose expenses are being covered by private business donations, Cashman's week-long trip is being underwritten by the PUC. The delegation also includes representatives from Bath Iron Works, Cianbro, Reed and Reed and Northern Maine Community College which now offers a wind-energy technology program. Jack Cashman was not available for comment.

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