The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has set aside the state utility commission’s approval of Emera Inc.’s investments in First Wind Holdings LLC and Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp.
In a 24-page decision released Tuesday, the court sent the matter back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission after finding the regulator’s interpretation of the Electric Industry Restructuring Act’s prohibition on financial relationships was inconsistent with the legislation’s goals and language.
“We are confident that, with guidance on the meaning of the statute, the commission will undertake a thoughtful and thorough reexamination of the proposals to determine whether the act permits the reorganization proposed in this case,” the court said.
“Accordingly, we vacate the commission’s decision and remand for further consideration consistent with this opinion.”
In 2012, the commission approved Emera’s investment in a joint venture with First Wind Holdings LLC of Boston and its increased ownership share of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. of Oakville, Ont.
First Wind operates 16 wind energy projects in Maine, New York, Vermont, Utah, Washington and Hawaii.
Algonquin Power has more than 30 power generation facilities and 27 utilities in Canada and the United States, including Maine.
The investment approval was based on a reorganization of Bangor Hydro Electric, Maine Public Service Company and Northeast Wind Holdings LLC, all owned by Emera, allowing the Halifax holding company and Nova Scotia Power Inc. parent to own both utilities and electricity generators in Maine.
“The proposed transactions would allow Maine’s regulated T&D (transmission and distribution) utilities – Bangor Hydro and MPS – to be held in common ownership with companies engaged in electricity generation in Maine, including several developers of wind energy projects,” the court said.
The decision was appealed by Houlton Water Company, a municipal utility in Maine, the Office of the Public Advocate and the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, on the grounds that it contravened the Electric Industry Restructuring Act’s prohibition of single ownership of transmission-and-distribution utilities and electricity generators.
The court found that while the act doesn’t expressly prohibit a parent company from owning both generation and transmission and distribution assets, the commission’s interpretation of the legislation wasn’t reasonable in light of the act’s aim to create a competitive electricity market.
Emera said in a news release Wednesday that it maintains its view that the transactions aren’t prohibited under the act.
The company noted that the court agreed with its position that the legislation doesn’t include a blanket prohibition against a company owning both transmission and distribution utilities and electricity generators.
“Emera looks forward to participating in the commission’s process for redetermination of this matter and remains committed to investing in Maine,” said Emera chief executive officer Chris Huskilson.
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