United States

United States

Court casts doubt on $1bn First Wind joint venture

UNITED STATES: First Wind has been forced to reapply to Maine state authorities for approval of its joint venture with Emera after the state's supreme court rejected a previous approval.

First Wind operates a number of projects in Maine, including Mars Hill
First Wind operates a number of projects in Maine, including Mars Hill

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Boston-based developer First Wind linked up with Canadian energy firm Emera in 2012 to own and operate wind projects in the US state of Maine. The agreement saw Emera invest more than $300 million for a 49% share in the venture, which initially had a 385MW portfolio, with a view to injecting up to $1 billion into new projects over a decade.

But the court found that the Maine Public Utilities Commission's (MPUC) original approval of the deal two years ago was improper and ordered the regulator to look again at the joint venture.

The court raised fears that the joint venture was anti-competitive due to the transmission network being owned and operated by Emera, to which the joint venture's wind farms would have access.

The court argued that since Emera operates parts of the grid and, as such, could favour generation from certain plants, including the wind projects being developed with First Wind, this could prove anti-competitive.

But the companies hold that because Emera does not own a controlling stake in the new power generation company, and the MPUC imposed conditions on the deal to insulate ratepayers from any adverse affect, the regulator had taken sufficient counterbalancing measures.

Earlier this month, one of the main opponents of the joint venture, the Maine Public Advocate, reversed its plans to attempt to block the deal, saying that it would back it under certain conditions.

There are a number of projects at different stages of development under the joint venture. The 148MW Oakfield wind farm is currently under construction, while the 186MW Bingham and 51MW Hancock projects are currently going through the consenting process.

If the regulator annuls the joint venture at its second pass, a large chunk of the financing for planned projects will be lost. But a spokesperson for First Wind said: "The Emera joint venture provides an important, but certainly not the only, source of capital for First Wind's north-east projects.

"Since 2006, First Wind has raised more than $7 billion in capital to develop, build and operate renewable energy projects across the country."

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