LePage energy chief defends effort to reopen offshore wind energy bids, says Statoil ‘hindered’ UMaine project

Posted Sept. 24, 2013, at 5:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage’s top energy adviser defended efforts the governor made to restart a bid process for an offshore wind power project along Maine’s coast.

Patrick Woodcock, the director of LePage’s Energy Office, said efforts it made to allow the University of Maine to bid on the project before the Maine Public Utilities Commission were meant to protect ratepayers and the state’s interests in general.

Norwegian energy giant Statoil had previously been awarded a term sheet for the project, but LePage’s staff objected during negotiations on an omnibus energy bill that was passed by lawmakers in July.

“The truth is that the project’s benefits to Maine are ambiguous while the costs to our state are clear and real — nearly $200 million will need to be subsidized by Maine families and businesses,” Woodcock said in a prepared statement. “This is the wrong direction for developing a new industry and antithetical to improving Maine’s business climate and reducing the energy bill burdens on Maine families.”

Woodcock also said that Statoil interfered in the earlier bid process preventing the University of Maine to bid on the project.

“The fact of the matter was that Statoil hindered the University of Maine from developing an alternative pilot project at a lower cost and failed to provide assurances that our manufacturing sector will receive capital investments that will increase long-term employment in Maine,” Woodcock said. “It would have been irresponsible for the administration to remain silent.”

The Maine PUC received a bid from the university on Aug. 30 and will be making a final decision on the contract by the end of December.

A spokesman for Statoil based in Houston denied the company did anything to interfere with the University of Maine in the initial bid process.

Ola Morten Aanestad said the company did not want to engage in any political discussions but did want to address Woodcock’s assertions Tuesday.

Aanestad said the company’s proposal, the Hywind Maine Project, was put on hold after the law change. He also refuted Woodcock’s claim that the company did anything to hinder competition in the market in Maine.

“Statoil welcomes the development of alternative floating concepts, as this will enhance the development of a floating market as such,” Aanestad wrote in an email message. “We have been cooperating with the University of Maine since 2010. The University of Maine has always been a partner to the Hywind Maine project, and still is.”

Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president of innovation and economic development, tried to distance himself from Woodcock’s comments that Statoil “hindered” UMaine’s attempts to develop its technology.

Ward told the Bangor Daily News that the university had reached out to Statoil in the past about collaborating on a pilot project that would co-locate the two organizations’ very different technologies, and bringing that proposal to the DOE, which will be doling out nearly $50 million to three offshore wind development projects. Statoil was not receptive to that idea, Ward said.

“While I might not have used the word hindered, they certainly have not embraced the idea that there are more technologies that are more cost-effective and could have more long-term effect on jobs,” he said, referring to Woodcock’s assertions that Statoil does not make enough of a commitment to create jobs and support businesses in Maine.

Tom Welch, chairman of the PUC, wouldn’t comment on Woodcock’s statement, but said, “Agencies and the government and members of the public are free to characterize things as they see fit, but we see our role as the Public Utilities Commission to apply the statutes the Legislature gives to us to the facts of the case.”

Aanestad said the university did not respond to the PUC’s 2011 request for proposals and also offered its support to Statoil’s application.

In 2011, Statoil was the only company to respond to the RFP.

Aanestad also noted that the university, “had full insight into our approved term sheet while responding to the reopened RFP on 30 August this year.”

He went on to note that Statoil had also made “significant commitments to use Maine suppliers for the pilot project, both in the investment phase and in the operational phase of the project.”

BDN Business Editor Whit Richardson contributed to this report.

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