PORTLAND, Maine — Utilities regulators turned down Central Maine Power Co.’s request to negotiate a land purchase for an affiliated wind power developer, arguing such an arrangement could open the possibility of improperly favorable treatment.
Tuesday’s unanimous decision of the three-person Maine Public Utilities Commission came before the panel allowed a financial relationship between Nova Scotia utility Emera and the generation company Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. to continue pending a challenge in Maine’s top court.
The commission’s decision in the CMP case falls in line with the recommendation of its staff, who argued earlier this month that Atlantic Wind should find someone other than CMP to acquire the right-of-way it will need for its West Range Wind project, previously Fletcher Wind, in Somerset County.
“Atlantic Wind can hire the same subcontractors that CMP would have hired,” commission chairman Mark Vannoy said Wednesday.
The case narrowly addressed that transaction as the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is set to address the standards that regulators should use to determine whether financial relationships between regulated utilities and power generators stand to violate state law separating the two.
That law created competitive markets for power suppliers, with the idea that competition would reduce electricity prices in the region.
The PUC in May decided to postpone its investigation of the relationship between CMP and Atlantic Wind, both subsidiaries of Spanish power company Iberdrola, as it awaits a ruling from the court on related issues.
That ruling will come in response to municipal utility Houlton Water Co.’s second challenge to PUC decisions that allowed Emera, the parent company of utility Emera Maine, to invest in Algonquin Power and the wind power company First Wind.
Amid those legal challenges, Emera unwound its $333 million partnership with First Wind as part of First Wind’s sale to solar energy giant SunEdison. But Emera retained its interests in Algonquin, which has power generation assets that are connected to the northern Maine transmission system of Maine Public Service. Algonquin also has an energy services subsidiary that sells power into the regional ISO New England grid.
The high court’s decision could affect the ability or rules for Atlantic Wind or any companies affiliated with either Emera or CMP to develop power generation projects in the state.
The West Range Wind project would be Atlantic Wind’s first planned project in the state, although it also has leased thousands of acres in Washington County.