Maine PUC declines to OK Statoil offshore wind term sheet

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Today the Maine Public Utilities Commission declined to approve a term sheet offered by Statoil North America, Inc. for a long-term power purchase agreement from its proposed Hywind Maine floating offshore wind project.

Sutton Island, Maine, about 80 miles downeast of the proposed Hywind Maine project.
In 2010, Maine enacted a law designed to support the development of offshore wind and other marine renewable energy projects.  Among other features, that law required the state Public Utilities Commission to conduct a competitive solicitation for proposals for deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects, meaning grid-tied floating wind projects at least 10 nautical miles offshore.  The statute gave the commission authority to direct mainland utilities to enter into power purchase agreements with one or more responding developers if certain minimum criteria were met.  This authority was discretionary, meaning the commission could choose not to order the utilities to sign a deal even if it met those criteria.

In September 2010, the commission issued its request for proposals under the program. Over the ensuing years, Statoil emerged as the apparent leading respondent, proposing the "Hywind Maine" project, a four-turbine, twelve megawatt project south of Boothbay Harbor.  Commission staff and Statoil negotiated the terms of a proposed power purchase agreement, which became public this summer.  Among those terms was a proposed energy price of between $290 and $320 per megawatt-hour, escalating annually, for the first 41 gigawatt-hours of energy produced each year.

That term sheet was the subject of deliberations by the Maine commission this morning.  After two hours of discussion, two of the three commissioners had stated that they would vote against approving the term sheet.  They expressed concerns about the cost of the contract, as well as uncertainty over the deal's benefit to Maine and Maine ratepayers.

The Maine commission's action bears some resemblance to that of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission in 2010 when it rejected a proposed contract between utility National Grid and offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind on the grounds that $244 per megawatt-hour was not a "commercially reasonable" price.  The Rhode Island commission ultimately approved a renegotiated deal with Deepwater Wind at a comparable price.  Similarly, the Maine commission invited Statoil to revise its proposal to offer more benefits to Maine, and to present a renegotiated deal for further deliberation.  Will Statoil be able to sweeten its offer and convince the commission that its contract is a good deal for Maine?

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