AUGUSTA — An investigation by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has concluded that the state’s former chief utilities regulator, Kurt Adams, broke no laws when he accepted a job and securities from a prominent wind power developer while still head of his agency.
A citizens’ group had asked the attorney general to investigate Adams, the former Public Utilities Commission chairman, after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported that he had been granted 1.2 million units of equity in Boston-based wind power company First Wind while he was still on the state’s payroll in April 2008.
First Wind constructs, operates and owns wind turbines across the country, including farms at Mars Hill and at Stetson Mountain. Two other projects are planned for Maine in Oakfield and Rollins Mountain in Lincoln.
Adams left the commission in May 2008 to work as senior vice president for First Wind and said the stock options – which First Wind called “equity units” in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – “had no value at all,” and thus should not trigger state laws prohibiting conflics of interest or improper gifts.
Later, Adams and company officials said that despite First Wind’s statements in federal filings, the company made a mistake and had granted the units only after Adams had left the PUC in mid-May 2008.
Adams said he had refrained from participating at the PUC in any deliberations connected to First Wind while he was negotiating with the company, including discussions over whether the agency should intervene on behalf of First Wind-owned Stetson Wind Farm before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
While Adams told the Center initially that he had been negotiating with First Wind only for a short period before accepting employment in April, 2008, the attorney general’s report details conversations between Adams and First Wind beginning on Dec. 10 or 11 of 2007.
A June 2 press release from the attorney general’s office detailed the scope of the investigation:
“This office interviewed PUC staff, PUC commissioners, and Mr. Adams. We reviewed emails, corporate documents, employment contracts, PUC and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) pleadings, and the record relating to the PUC’s deliberation of whether to intervene before FERC on the disqualification of the Stetson Wind Farm from the first Forward Capacity Auction (“FCA”).”
Adams’ case was reviewed with two Maine laws in mind, investigators said. One law bars gifts to regulators with the intent of influencing their actions; another is a law that bars a regulator from participating in any official proceeding in which he has a direct or substantial financial interest, or his immediate family, business partners, person or organizations with whom he is negotiating prospective employment have a direct and substantial financial interest.
Because Adams recused himself from “any proceeding in which he arguably had a ‘direct and substantial financial interest,’” investigators concluded that there was “no cause for further action regarding Kurt Adams interactions with First Wind at the end of his service as Chair of the PUC.”
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said Adams was traveling and could not be reached to provide comment on the report. But Lamontagne released a statement on behalf of First Wind that said “we are pleased that the Attorney General and her office have concluded their review and found that there was no wrongdoing and that both First Wind and Mr. Adams acted appropriately in compliance with conflict of interest laws. This conclusion is consistent with our internal review of the matter.”
Steve Thurston of Roxbury, co-chairman of the Citizen’s Task Force on Wind Power, a coalition of groups opposed to large-scale wind power development in the state, was one of the activists who requested the AG’s investigation. After the release of the report, Thurston said “that’s the end of the story, there’s no place to go beyond the attorney general’s office. If they determined that he didn’t break any laws, they did what we were asking.”
Naomi Schalit is senior reporter of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell. The center may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is pinetreewatchdog.org.