UMaine ordered to reveal some wind project details

State regulators order UMaine to release some of its offshore wind power project proposal

Associated Press

HALLOWELL, Maine (AP) -- The University of Maine and its partner companies must reveal some details of its offshore wind power project proposal by the end of the month, state regulators ordered Tuesday.

The Public Utilities Commission's ruled 2-1 that a redacted version of the proposal be released. The ruling comes after weeks of mounting pressure from environmental groups and lawmakers that the public be allowed to view the proposal, which was submitted after the competitive bidding process was reopened in July.

Maine Aqua Ventus, the umbrella name for the university and its partners on the project, has objected to the calls, saying the proposal was crafted with the promise of it remaining private and that releasing information would harm its chances for a $46 million energy grant. But state regulators said Tuesday that the unusual circumstances surrounding the university's bid allow for information to be revealed.

"There's much in the proposal that would assist the public to understand the outlines and basic structure of the proposal that would present little or no risk to competitive harm," said Chairman Thomas Welch.

Norwegian company Statoil won approval for its $120 million proposal earlier this year, but put it on hold after Republican Gov. Paul LePage maneuvered to reopen the competitive bidding process in July. An Associated Press review of documents last month found that LePage's administration had been previously working behind the scenes to explicitly void Statoil's proposal by limiting the amount home and business owners would pay for the project.

Welch said staff will work with Maine Aqua Ventus over the next couple of weeks to determine what has to be released and what can remain confidential.

Jeffrey Thaler, assistant counsel to the University of Maine, said that he was disappointed in Tuesday's decision, calling it an unprecedented move. Commissioner Mark Vannoy, who opposed the decision, said it would set a dangerous precedent for companies that wish to submit future bids with the state.

"We are concerned that we are being held to a different standard (than Statoil) and that the rules are being changed on us," Thaler said.

The university had said that it intends to put some information about its project on a public website, but Commissioner David Littell said that would allow the university to reveal only information that the public would view favorably.

"That's just simply not the way government should work," said Littell, who argued that most of the university's bid should be made public. "The university is an instrumentality of the state of Maine and selective information disclosure by government I don't think is the public interest."

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