Gov. Angus King took pre-emptive action against a potential distraction in his independent bid for the U.S. Senate today by resigning from the wind energy development company he helped found. King says the paperwork that allows him to exit Independence Wind should be complete by the first of next week. As a result, any financial benefits he might have received from federal energy subsidies as a principal in the company will no longer be valid issues in his campaign.
Before he was elected governor of Maine in 1994, Angus King created a blind trust where he promptly deposited the millions of dollars he had earned through the sale of his energy efficiency company, Northeast Energy Management.
Now, as he begins the process of gearing up for his independent bid to become Maine’s next U.S. Senator, he finds himself weighing the implications of serving in Washington where he could be voting on the federal subsidies his Independence Wind company could receive. This time, King says, a blind trust is not an option.
“It struck me that even if it were in some kind of trust, I would still know that somehow there is an interest in the wind business,” King says.
Founded by King and former MPBN President Robert Gardiner, Independence Wind combines environmental and political skills to support wind project development in Maine. The company operates a 22-turbine, 50-megawatt utility-scale wind power project in Roxbury. A second project near Sugarloaf in Highland Plantation is currently on hold.
As he completes the paperwork for disassociating himself from Independence Wind, the former governor described the process as not exactly the same as selling his interest. “Selling is a euphemisim–turning over is probably more appropriate,” he says.
King says getting out of the wind power business made the most sense as he launches his bid to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. “I just didn’t feel it would be appropriate for me to run for federal office being involved in an industry that is, in fact, involved with federal policy in terms of energy and energy independence,” he says.
“Well, it’s not a surprise that he would do this because it has become quite a controversial issue,” says Chris O’Neil, president of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, a group that opposes the proliferation of grid-scale wind power.
O’Neil says that in the last month, the U.S. Senate has voted several times on controversial amendments that would allow the expired wind energy production tax credit to be extended. Those tax credit extension efforts are expected to continue next year. And O’Neil says that could place a Sen. Angus King in an uncomfortable position.
“To have my finger on a green button or a red button that could potentially put $80 million into my pocket or give it to somebody else is a pretty tough position to be in when you’re there to uphold the public trust,” O’Neil says.
Politically and ethically, King made the right move at the right time, according to UMaine political science Professor Mark Brewer.
“There’s really no benefit in allowing something like that to be out there that some of his opponents could use against him over the course of the campaign, and I think it’s only smart to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest before they turn into an issue.” Brewer says.
While it is still extremely early in the pre-June primary season, Brewer says King is clearly the best-known candidate out of the other 10 Republicans and Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.
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