AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage’s secretive wind power commission is not quite dead after all.
The controversial commission held its first meeting Thursday, more than eight months after LePage created the group via executive order and roughly three months before his term in office ends. The Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission is charged with examining the potential economic impact of commercial wind power development on tourism in western and coastal Maine as well as recommending changes to the state’s existing permitting system for wind power projects.
While LePage has said the group is needed to ensure Maine’s tourism industry is not unduly affected by massive wind turbines located on mountaintops or near water bodies, critics dismissed the group as yet another swipe at the industry by a governor who has clashed repeatedly with segments of Maine’s renewable energy industry and the environmental community.
Last week, there was widespread speculation that the commission had ended before it began after a member publicly resigned, citing the lack of action and the departures of two LePage executive employees who were also members.
There was no advance public notice of the meeting of the panel, which LePage had explicitly exempted from Maine’s public meetings laws. But his communications office released the list of members for the first time.
The 15-member commission includes three members of his administration and several noted critics of wind power, as well as a representative of the tourism industry and the state Public Utilities Commission. One individual has a background in renewable energy but there are no representatives of the wind power industry in Maine, which has erected nearly 400 turbines in the state and was responsible for roughly 20 percent of the electricity generated in Maine last year, according to federal data.
The members are:
• Angela Monroe, director of the Governor’s Energy Office.
• Douglas Ray, acting director of business development for the Department of Economic and Community Development.
• Paul Mercer, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
• Jeffrey McNelly, director of the PUC’s telephone and water division.
• Frank Couture, whose background was not disclosed.
• Steven Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.
• Eric Bleicken, president and owner of Grifin, LLC, a government and business consulting firm.
• Earl Bierman, chief of staff to the House Republican Office in the Legislature.
• Rep. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, owner of a landscaping business.
• Christopher Fogg, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association.
• Richard Mills, whose background was not disclosed.
• Thomas Murley with Two Lights Energy Advisors, which offers investment and strategic advice on renewable and conventional energy projects.
• Vern Maxfield, manager of the western Maine town of Woodstock, which hosts a 10-turbine wind power facility.
• Jim LaBrecque, a heating and refrigeration professional who, as a technical adviser on energy issues to LePage, has been a vocal critic of the wind and solar energy industries in Maine.
• Larry Dunphy, a former Republican lawmaker from Embden who, as a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, was a vocal critic of wind power.
The first meeting of the group came two weeks after commission member Chris O’Neil resigned. In his resignation letter to LePage, the representative for the anti-wind-power group Friends of Maine’s Mountains said the commission “lacks urgency, credibility and focus” and that he had “little faith that it will achieve much, if anything.”
“Four months have passed since my appointment and the commission has not convened a meeting,” O’Neil wrote to LePage. “Election season is upon us. The departures from the administration of (Department of Economic and Community Development) Commissioner George Gervais and Energy Director Steve McGrath have denuded the commission of its designed leadership. . . . I do not think we have the ability to produce a quality product.”
LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz did not release a copy of Thursday meeting’s agenda. But she said an additional meeting is tentatively planned for this month and that “meetings will be public per the governor.”
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association that represents wind power developers and contractors, dismissed the meeting and the group.
“Like a bad penny, this secretive commission has turned up again,” Payne wrote in an email. “We’re hopeful the next governor won’t rely on secretive groups meeting without notice to examine public policy around clean energy development. It’s just the latest – and hopefully the last – example of Governor LePage actively seeking to send wind farm investment and jobs fleeing from Maine.”