Maine wind probe finds no conflict of interest

Posted June 02, 2010, at 2:01 p.m.

AUGUSTA — The Attorney General’s Office has found no evidence that former Public Utilities Commission chairman Kurt Adams violated any laws in the months leading up to his acceptance of a job offer at wind power developer First Wind.

Attorney General Janet Mills’ office began looking into the issue in late April after news reports raised questions about whether Adams had a conflict of interest in his final months at the PUC as he talked with First Wind about a possible job.

In a filing with the federal Securities and Ex-change Commission, First Wind reported that Adams received approximately 1.2 million units of “long-term equity” weeks before he stepped down as chairman of the PUC in May 2008.

First Wind since has said that the timing listed in the SEC filing was incorrect and that Adams did not receive the units — a type of compensation similar to stock options — until after he started working for the company.

But the company’s explanation has not silenced the critics of Maine’s push to develop wind power who have accused Adams and others in state government of conflicts of interest.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office released a report saying that after a detailed re-view of documents and interviews with parties, they found no evidence that Adams had a conflict or acted improperly.

“Our review of the facts discloses no evidence of a violation of these laws, in particular because Adams recused himself appropriately from any decision making which might have raised the appearance of a quid pro quo or inappropriate influence,” reads the report.

A chronology released along with the AG’s report states that Adams first contacted First Wind about a possible job in December 2007.

But the chronology says Adams sought to leave the PUC because of a possible conflict of interest over the commission’s review of Central Maine Power’s plans for a major power transmission line upgrade, which could pass behind his residence.

Adams then recused himself from all PUC matters involving First Wind from December until the time he left the commission. The AG’s report also noted that the equity units had no monetary value until Adams had worked at First Wind for one full year.

“As demonstrated by the chronology, Adams complied with this law by disqualifying himself from any proceeding in which he arguably had a ‘direct and substantial financial interest,’” the report reads.

In a written statement, First Wind praised the finding.

“As the largest wind energy producer in Maine and a pioneer in the development of utility-scale commercial projects, we understand that our company and actions will come under scrutiny,” the statement reads. “We want to rein-force that we are committed to building, owning and operating wind projects that provide environmental and economic benefits to our host communities and that we will continue to strive to be an excellent community citizen.”

But a member of a group that had called for an investigation described the AG’s report as “yet another whitewash” that obscures how public officials at all levels in Maine “do favors for certain industries they have an interest in.”

“I always go by the premise that when there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, then there is a conflict of interest,” said Brad Blake, a member of the Citizen’s Task Force on Wind Power, a small but increasingly vocal organization criticizing the development of industrial wind power in Maine.

Blake said he and other group members suspect that Adams may have been active behind the scenes at the PUC even after recusing himself from matters involving First Wind.

“He set the tone for the PUC,” Blake said. “Everybody at the PUC knows of his interest in pushing wind.”

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