Former Maine governor and independent Senate candidate Angus King is an alternative energy entrepreneur who made the most of an electric-utility restructuring law that he signed during his governorship, while obtaining loan guarantees via the same program that loaned more than $500 million to the failed solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, records show.
The revelations add to growing concerns over King’s conduct both as an elected official and as a wind-energy entrepreneur.
According to a summer 1997 report prepared for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, King signed into law a requirement that utilities generate at least 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources, including wind.
Such mandates are “creating intolerable crony relationships between the government and the energy companies that sock it to the ratepayer,” American Enterprise Institute energy policy expert Kenneth P. Green told the Free Beacon. “It’s advanced by revolving-door politicians and sold under the fact that it’s ‘green.’”
“Maine was the leader” in the national push to restructure state electricity industries and mandate investment in renewable energy, former Maine Democratic legislator Chris O’Neil, who was in the Maine legislature in 1997, told the Free Beacon.
“It was a broad, sweeping law that broke apart the two state-sanctioned monopolies that had operated the power plants, generated the power, built the power lines and sold the power to the consumer for four generations in Maine,” O’Neil said. “It was a regulated monopoly, sure, but it worked great for 100 years.”
“We did not have a lot of wind power infrastructure built in Maine before that [law],” said Kay Mann, publisher of greenenergymaine.com.
In 2007, after leaving the governor’s mansion, King founded the wind energy company Independence Wind with Robert Gardiner. Independence Wind spent several years developing proprietary technology before announcing in 2011 the Record Hill Wind project, a 50.6-megawatt joint venture with Wagner Wind Energy LLC that includes 22 wind turbines.
Record Hill met all of the requirements outlined by the 1997 statute that King had signed into law.
King’s mandate was not sound policy and its consequences have hurt the state, O’Neil said.
“The renewable portfolio mandate and the 30 percent mandate has definitely hurt rate-payers,” O’Neil said, though he was skeptical that King had the foresight to put together a multiyear plan designed to bilk taxpayers of millions.
“I’m a friend of the man and I can’t imagine he’s that smart,” O’Neil said.
Others are not so sure.
“There’s no doubt that the connections [King] made politically benefited him in the private sector afterwards,” said Jason Savage, executive director of the nonpartisan advocacy group Maine People Before Politics. “He knows how to line himself up for federal loan guarantees.”
King’s career in the wind energy sector has also garnered controversy regarding a loan King’s company received from the federal government.
The Record Hill project received a $102 million Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee as part of the federal government’s economic stimulus program—the same loan program used to secure financing for the ill-fated solar power company Solyndra.
In March 2012, congressional investigators sent Independence Wind an official letter notifying King’s company that a House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation was underway regarding the Record Hill project.
The letter was sent six days before King’s campaign claims he was made aware of the investigation, but just two days before King granted interviews announcing his decision to divest in Independence Wind.
The congressional oversight report, dated March 20, stated that King’s company attempted to pass off existing technologies as “innovative” in order to qualify for the loan.
“DOE knew that the Record Hill project did not use significantly innovative technology … the Record Hill Wind project attempted to categorize minor modifications to existing commercial technology as ‘innovativeness.’ DOE eventually agreed with Record Hill Wind’s questionable reasoning,” according to the report.
“Angus King has never really worked in the private sector. He’s gained all his wealth off government subsidies and mandates,” said Andy Torbett, Maine conservative blogger. “It’s Solyndra. There’s no risk for him. If he wins he wins, but if he loses then taxpayers are left holding the bag.”
Governor King’s son Angus King III is vice president for mergers and acquisitions at First Wind, an independent wind energy company headquartered in Portland.
A King campaign spokesperson did not return a request for comment.