Hawaii wind player gets comeuppance in Maine
(Augusta, Maine) First Wind, the industrial wind developer whose projects in Hawaii have sparked controversy, has suffered two major setbacks recently in Maine.
Last week the Maine Board of Environmental Protection voted 4-1 to deny First Wind’s appeal of a decision by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to reject the company’s proposal for a 16-turbine, 48 megawatt industrial wind project in a remote area of the state. That effectively kills the project, a major loss for First Wind, with the company’s last and only recourse now being to sue one or both agencies in the state’s supreme court.
Earlier this year Maine’s supreme court struck a major blow to First Wind when it overturned regulators’ approval of a financing arrangement between the company and Emera, an electric utility company based in Nova Scotia. The decision threatens another First Wind project in the state, and possibly the company’s overall financial stability.
In Hawaii, First Wind operates four industrial wind projects, Kahuku Wind, Kawailoa Wind, Kaheawa Wind I and Kaheawa Wind II. The company also has an office on Maui. First Wind’s projects in Hawaii have been controversial, highlighted by fires at the Kahuku facility on Oahu’s North Shore in 2011 and 2012, causing safety and pollution concerns. The National Wind Watch, an anti-wind group, lists two anti-wind groups in the state of Hawaii, I Aloha Molokai and Makani Lanai.
Chris O’Neil, a spokesperson for the anti-wind group Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said the two losses for First Wind are significant, because the company can no longer count on the “blind faith” of the state’s legislature and regulatory agencies, as they had previously been able to.
“Folks here are catching on to the way First Wind does business, and they don’t like it,” O’Neil said. “They play inside baseball, fertilizing the landscape with a lot of sponsorships and political contributions. It could be that this heavy-handed business model is starting to backfire.”
O’Neil said Maine has a virulent and growing anti-wind community, and he pointed to a 2010 news article about Kurt Adams, First Wind’s executive vice president and chief development officer, as one of the reasons for the growing backlash.
According to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, Adams once worked for Maine’s governor, in charge of making sure companies like First Wind followed the state’s rules and regulations. “While he was Maine’s chief utilities regulator,” reporter Naomi Schalit wrote, “Kurt Adams accepted an ownership interest in a leading wind energy company. One month later, in May 2008, he went to work for that company, First Wind, as a senior vice president. The move from a state job to the private sector richly rewarded Adams: A ‘summary compensation table’ in a recent SEC filing shows that Adams's 2009 compensation of $1.3 million included $315,000 in salary, $658,000 in stock awards, $29,000 of "other" compensation and $315,000 in "non-equity incentives."
In the past several months, Adams has been on the “host committee” of several fundraisers for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for Maine governor and supporter of industrial wind. Maine’s current governor, Paul LePage, is not as chummy with the industry, which relies heavily on ratepayer and taxpayer subsidies.
O’Neil said educating Maine people about the political muscle of wind industrialists has been a slow process, but organizations like Friends of Maine’s Mountains are now having much more success winning converts to the anti-wind cause in that state.
“It’s ironic, but First Wind’s approach has made it easier for us to reach people. Their strong-arm tactics and manipulation of the political process attract attention. That makes it easier for us to point out that wind turbines do not make economic sense in Maine.”
Friends of Maine’s Mountains (FMM) is an non-profit educational organization that raises awareness of the destructive toll that industrial wind turbines inflict on Maine’s precious and finite mountain areas. For more information, www.FriendsOfMainesMountains.org.
On The Web:
- "PUC chairman took equity stake in wind company"
- First Wind
- Friends of Maine's Mountains
- "Citizen board upholds Maine DEP's rejection of Bowers Mountain wind farm permit"