Three groups have asked to challenge Central Maine Power Co. parent Iberdrola’s plan to build a wind farm in Somerset County, but not with the usual arguments against wind power.
The parties lining up in the case are the same who challenged a joint venture by Emera and Massachusetts-based wind developer First Wind. They argue such affiliations violate state law preventing companies distributing power, like CMP, from owning power generation assets.
Atlantic Wind, indirectly owned by Iberdrola, asked regulators in December to approve an agreement for it to secure a connection to the distribution network for CMP, also indirectly owned by Iberdrola.
Wind development opponents organized as Friends of Maine Mountains and two parties who argued against the Emera-First Wind partnership on Tuesday asked to intervene in the case, which will put another test to how the Maine Public Utilities Commission interprets the legality of having subsidiaries of the state’s two major utilities investing in power generation assets.
The commission twice approved the First Wind-Emera case, which opponents planned to appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Emera’s announcement that it would sell its interest in the joint venture halted the legal challenge led by the municipally owned utility, Houlton Water Co.
But Houlton Water wants to challenge Iberdrola’s wind farm plans for the state, which could include projects on about 7,200 leased acres in Washington County.
In its request to join the case Tuesday, Houlton Water wrote that the decision in the Atlantic Wind request “may impact how the commission chooses to treat other transactions that impact Emera and its affiliates.”
Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Atlantic Wind owner Iberdrola Renewables, said that the company is looking to the First Wind-Emera case and the PUC decisions for guidance in that regard.
“We’re very mindful of any affiliate questions that the PUC needs answered and that will govern our behavior,” Copleman said.
Copleman said the request before the PUC is “fairly simple,” but parties seeking to intervene in the case made clear in filings Tuesday they seek to make the case about broader issues.
The opposition group Friends of Maine Mountains, which has a stated goal of delaying wind projects in the state, said in its intervenor request that the case raises questions about “inappropriate dealings” between a regulated utility and a power generation company.
How the PUC will handle those questions will partly depend on the commissioners that hear the case and those arguments as it moves ahead.
PUC Chairman Tom Welch is set to retire Wednesday and Commissioner David Littell’s term expires in March. Those two commissioners voted to approve the First Wind-Emera partnership, while Commissioner Mark Vannoy dissented, arguing the PUC did not follow the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s guidance in approving the deal a second time.
Vannoy’s term on the commission expires in March 2019. Gov. Paul LePage — who has criticized wind development as a costly alternative to other energy sources, specifically natural gas and hydropower — will soon nominate a successor to Welch and will likely replace Littell when his term expires.