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Wind Deal Status Unclear After Ruling

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 2:34pm
David Sharp, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- A deal that gave Canadian utility Emera a stake in First Wind faces an uncertain future following a state supreme court ruling, the chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission said Wednesday.

The court ruled Tuesday that regulators must re-examine a deal in which Nova Scotia-based Emera invested more than $300 million to have a 49 percent stake in Boston-based First Wind's Northeast project portfolio.

Emera is the corporate parent of Emera Maine, which includes the former Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. State law restrictions relationships between transmission companies and power producers to prevent favoritism of one power producer over another on the grid.

PUC Chairman Tom Welch said it will take several months for regulators to revisit the case and render a new decision. The status of the business deal in the interim is unclear, he said.

"It will be a challenge but we have the responsibility to come to some decision. We'll work our way through it," said Welch. He said the review process would likely begin anew this week.

Emera CEO Chris Huskilson expressed optimism Wednesday that the deal is legal both under the PUC's original interpretation of the state law and under the court's new interpretation of the law.

"Emera looks forward to participating in the commission's process for redetermination of this matter and remains committed to investing in Maine," he said in a statement from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

First Wind said it, too, remained committed to making the deal work.

The landscape has changed substantially in Maine since the days when electric deregulation became law in Maine, requiring Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro to sell off their power generation assets.

Both CMP and Emera Maine are now owned by bigger companies with substantial holdings, including stakes in renewable energy. The difference is that CMP's parent doesn't have any wind projects in Maine, while Emera Maine's corporate parent took a stake in a wind power company with seven projects in Maine.

The state supreme court didn't issue a blanket decision that rules out business relationships between a power producer and a transmission and distribution company. But the court said such a deal should be rejected if it leads to a financial interest that provides incentive for a transmission and distribution company to favor certain power generators.

"The law court usually gives us deference but here they reached a different conclusion on the law," Welch said.

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