Staff Writer Kevin Miller’s May 16 news article about the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee’s public hearing on L.D. 994 misses key issues – including the fact that L.D. 994 has been put forward as “emergency legislation” and could be considered an overreach of power by the Legislature.
Regardless whether one is for or against the Maine Aqua Ventus project, citizens should be outraged by this attempt to subvert the Public Utilities Commission’s order to re-open and review the term sheet. In the words of some of the key players:
“The commission understands the importance of this project to Maine Aqua Ventus and its stakeholders,” then-PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said June 12, 2018, after the PUC voted to reopen the project’s contract. “On the other hand, it is incumbent on the commission to ensure that the proposal continues to meet the legal requirements established by the Maine Legislature in 2010 and remains in the public interest of Maine citizens and businesses.”
During the May 16 hearing on L.D. 994, Mitch Tannenbaum, general counsel to the PUC since 1985, stated that the PUC officially reopened the contract last Aug. 6, asking questions of Maine Aqua Ventus “to be sure the statutory criteria are still satisfied.”
Maine Aqua Ventus initially appeared amenable to working with the PUC. Jake Ward, from Maine Aqua Ventus and the University of Maine, wrote Aug. 13, 2018: “We are currently reviewing the order and are looking forward for the opportunity to provide additional information to the PUC in support of a power purchase agreement.”
However, Maine Aqua Ventus “never did file a response to that order,” Tannenbaum said at the recent hearing. Asked why they had not responded to any of the questions posed by the PUC, Ward noted, “Some of those (questions) require support and funding” to answer.
Maine Title 35-A details the mission of the PUC: “The basic purpose of this regulatory system as it applies to public utilities subject to service regulation under this Title is to ensure safe, reasonable and adequate service, to assist in minimizing the cost of energy available to the State’s consumers and to ensure that the rates of public utilities subject to rate regulation are just and reasonable to customers and public utilities.” Without answering the PUC’s questions (for example, where is the cable going to land?), how can the PUC judge if the rate that would be imposed by this legislation is not abusive to consumers?
Given that L.D. 994 was first brought up in the Legislature in February, it is clear that Maine Aqua Ventus’ strategy all along has been to not work with the PUC and to have no intention of complying with the order issued. It’s ironic that the bill, sponsored solely by David Woodsome, a sitting member and former chair of the Energy and Utilities Committee, was referred to the committee just two days after Vannoy left his position as PUC chairman – leaving no one currently to advocate on the PUC’s behalf.
Mitch Tannenbaum, when asked if the Legislature had ever directed the PUC to go to contract, replied, “In my 30-plus years at the commission, that has never occurred.”
The Maine Constitution defines emergency legislation as “only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.” While it might be argued that this may be an emergency for the small group of Maine Aqua Ventus investors, it is certainly not necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.
The Legislature should do its job and, instead of directing the PUC to go to contract, it should compel Maine Aqua Ventus to respond to the issues that the PUC would like addressed in order to determine whether an agreement should be made or not. Once the PUC has made its decision, the Legislature can then determine the best way to move forward. The ends do not justify the means. L.D. 994 is not only a procedural end run around PUC authority but also a blatant attempt to hang on to a deal that may or may not be economically in the state’s best interest. The cynical workaround that is L.D. 994 should not be allowed to stand.
Andrew Fenniman is a resident of Chamberlain, Travis Dow is a resident of Monhegan, and Wendy Carr is a resident of St. George.