Wind energy industry files suit against LePage administration

Source: BY KEVIN MILLER, Portland Press Herald • Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2018

In a legal challenge filed in Kennebec County, the Maine Renewable Energy Association claims that Gov. LePage violated the state’s constitutional separation of powers when he issued a moratorium on new wind turbine permits.

AUGUSTA – Maine’s wind energy industry is challenging the constitutionality of a recent LePage administration executive order imposing a moratorium on new wind power permits across much of the state.

In a filing in Kennebec County Superior Court, the Maine Renewable Energy Association accuses Gov. Paul LePage of “unconstitutional executive overreach in creating a moratorium of indefinite duration that is contrary to the will of the Legislature.” The association, which is a trade group representing wind energy companies and contractors, is asking the court to nullify the January 24th executive order halting the issuance of new wind power permits and creating a secretive advisory commission to explore potential changes to the permitting process.

“While the governor may not support wind power, no executive authority exists for him to arbitrarily decide which industries and their permit applications may be afforded a comprehensive regulatory review,” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said in a statement. “Our Constitution clearly lays out the separation of powers between our co-equal branches of government, and this order directly contradicts that separation,”

This is the second lawsuit challenging LePage’s executive order on wind power. The Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation also filed suit in Cumberland County Superior Court, claiming the administration’s actions violates the constitutional separation of powers.

A vocal critic of the wind energy industry and Maine’s environmental organizations, LePage issued an executive order that will prohibit state agencies from issuing wind turbine permits in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.”

As part of the executive order, LePage also created a Wind Energy Advisory Commission that will examine the wind power industry’s impact on tourism and potential regulatory changes when siting the massive wind turbines. But LePage also explicitly exempted the commission from Maine’s public meetings and public records law – thereby allowing the group to meet out of view of Maine citizens and the press – by using a loophole in the Freedom of Access Act that was rarely used until he took office.

In its filing, the Maine Renewable Energy Association contends the executive order illegally aims to undermine the laws regulating wind energy passed by the Legislature. The association also predicts the moratorium – which will remain in place until the advisory commission issues a final report – will cause economic harm to the industry.

“There is a substantial risk that the moratorium will prevent or delay the issuance of required permits for wind energy projects in development by MREA members, and that such delay will result in the loss or reduction of financial incentives, including tax credits, for those projects,” reads the legal complaint. “The moratorium will also harm the economic interests of MREA’s members who would support and supply goods and services to the wind projects banned by the moratorium.”