Calls mount for UMaine to reveal wind project bid

Calls mount for UMaine to release details of offshore wind project proposal

Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Lawmakers and environmental groups urged the University of Maine to release details about the offshore wind power proposal it submitted last month after Gov. Paul LePage's administration maneuvered to halt a Norwegian company's project from going forward to allow the university to submit a bid.

Maine Aqua Ventus, the umbrella company that includes the university and its partner groups, submitted its proposal last month, but the document remains confidential, as is allowed under commission rules. But some say recent revelations about the Republican administration's efforts to explicitly derail Statoil's proposal further demonstrate the need for the university to make its proposal public.

"Because of the high profile nature of what the governor has done to Statoil ... I think the (university) should go above and beyond to be transparent," said Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland.

LePage's administration pressed for legislation to reopen the competitive bidding process to allow the university to submit a bid, causing Statoil to put its project on hold. The administration opposed Statoil's project because ratepayers would subsidize the high energy costs and said giving the university a shot at a contract was vital in allowing it to compete for an offshore wind project.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that LePage's administration was previously working behind the scenes to explicitly derail Statoil's proposal. The administration initially floated "a much more aggressive effort to explicitly void" Statoil's agreement by limiting the amount that home and business owners would pay for the project to about half of what Statoil had proposed, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Access Act.

Several groups, including Statoil, the two chairmen of the energy committee and two environmental organizations, have sent letters to the commission asking that some details be made public. The university was expected to file a response by the end of the day Tuesday.

The university said releasing details of the project would put it at a competitive disadvantage and that the commission has long allowed proposals to be confidential. Tony Buxton, the lawyer representing Maine Aqua Ventus, said Statoil only released some details of its project after it was approved by the state and that the university expects that if its proposal is approved, it too will release a redacted version of its proposal.

"The process has been established for 14 years, we have no reason to believe it would be different for us," he said.

But Beth Nagusky, the Maine director of Environment Northeast, and Sean Mahoney, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said in their letter to the commission earlier this month that this is "not a typical long-term contract bid proposal."

"The public deserves to understand what is in the proposal and what is behind the university's mission so that we can have a healthy public debate about the pros and cons of both projects," Nagusky said in an interview. She served as co-chair of the Governor's Ocean Energy Task Force, which created the legislation that led to the request for proposals for an offshore wind project.

Democratic Sen. John Cleveland, of Auburn, and Rep. Barry Hobbins, of Saco, chairs of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said in their letter to the commission on Friday that the "unique circumstances" of the reopening of the bidding process call for the release of some details.

"We believe this would permit a thorough and robust review of the university's proposal and would increase public confidence in the process and ultimately in the decision that is rendered by the commission," they wrote.

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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