The Maine Public Utilities Commission once again granted its approval to a multimillion-dollar joint venture to develop wind-generation projects after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturned its initial approval and sent the case back for reconsideration.
During deliberations Tuesday, PUC Chairman Thomas Welch said he did not see any reason why the joint venture between First Wind, Maine’s largest wind-power generator, and Emera Inc. of Nova Scotia, an energy distributor that owns two utilities in northern and eastern Maine, does not pass muster even under the court’s stricter guidelines.
The court in March negated the PUC’s initial decision, ruling that the PUC erred when it approved the $333 million joint venture in 2012.
The justices found that the approval violated the intent of Maine’s restructuring law passed in 2000 to decouple electricity generators and distributors. They sent the matter back for further review by the PUC.
On Tuesday, Welch said the PUC has set conditions to ensure a legal separation between the joint venture, known as Northeast Wind Holdings LLC, and its parent companies. Under those conditions, he said, it is unlikely the joint venture would result in unfair competition in the energy market, such as Emera giving First Wind preferential access to its power grid.
“Even if there is a theoretical possibility that a utility could misbehave because of a theoretical benefit, that isn’t enough,” Welch said.
But Anthony Buxton, a Portland attorney for the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, which opposes the joint venture, said it defies common sense to assume that a power generator and distributor working together would not be tempted to engage in monopolistic behavior.
“Human nature is quite predictable,” Buxton said.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said company officials were encouraged by the PUC’s decision to approve the venture a second time.
“We look forward to reviewing the complete written decision,” Lamontagne said. “We thank the Commission for revisiting the transaction consistent with the direction of the Supreme Judicial Court and for approving the transaction once again.”
This story will be updated.