Advise Maine T&D company regarding legislation to expand natural gas capacity in New England
In 2013, we represented a large transmission and distribution company with regard to Omnibus Energy Legislation authorizing the State of Maine to procure up to $75 million of natural gas capacity in New England. The legislation was aimed at high regional electric prices caused by insufficient capacity of natural gas on the coldest days of winter, which shortfall made it difficult for gas-fired power plants to operate. Our goal on behalf of the client was to ensure that the risks on Maine electric consumers through the bill were minimized, which required us to work for weeks with a wide range of stakeholders in order to make necessary amendments to the original bill. As a result of our strong relationships in the State House and ability to offer reasonable and creative solutions, many of our proposals were ultimately included in the final legislation, which passed. Maine later authorized the entry into a long-term natural gas capacity contract, subject to joinder by the other states.
Preserving Legal Right of Private Company to Acquire a Maine Company
Some transactions go smoothly. But when they don’t, Verrill is ready. The proposed acquisition of a publicly traded company in Maine by large multinational corporation was just such a transaction.
For months, the multinational corporation and its legal team had worked to prepare the necessary tender offer materials and other SEC filings in support of the proposed acquisition. But at 5PM during one evening in April, everything changed. Verrill’s business law group received word from the firm’s government relations team that emergency legislation had been filed by the Governor, with support from Legislative leadership, that would scuttle the transaction -- if passed. The bill had already been scheduled for hearing the following morning, with no advance notice. So we swung into action immediately.
Working all night, our team formulated a strategy for the public hearing, and in the morning, we implemented an all-out government relations strategy to slow down the legislative process and give our client more time to tell their story – and complete the transaction. The strategy worked, and by a narrow vote in the Maine House that night, the bill failed to get the necessary votes to pass. But our work was not over.
For the next two weeks, working closely with the client, elected officials, and media consultants, Verrill helped the client continue forward with the proxy battle and grow support within the Legislature to reject the proposed bill. The work was not easy because there was strong emotional support within the local community to prevent the transaction. But we were able to make headway by illustrating that political interference with private business transactions would hurt Maine’s business climate in the long run, and should be discouraged.
Finally, in May, after weeks of intense work and substantial media coverage, the Legislature took a final vote on the bill. By a single vote in the Senate, our argument won the day, and the bill failed. With the failure of the bill, the transaction was able to move forward to completion with the support of the shareholders. Crisis averted.
Verrill Helps Neighborhood Group in Dispute Over Proposed Ferry Legislation
In 2013, Jim Cohen helped a group of Yarmouth, Maine residents in a state legislative dispute involving the private ferry service serving the Town of Chebeague Island. In early 2013, the ferry service proposed draft legislation that would convert the private ferry company into a unit of local government with limited eminent domain authority on Chebeague Island. Neighbors on Cousins Island in Yarmouth – which is the mainland connection for the ferry -- were concerned that the legislation would give the ferry more political clout to expand parking and traffic in their neighborhood, and neighbors feared that expansions in ferry operations could be allowed based on actions in Augusta rather than locally. Jim Cohen, with help from Katie Gray and Gordie Smith, helped the neighbors research the relevant laws and presented the new information to neighbors and the Town of Yarmouth. Jim also worked with Kathie Summers-Grice of Maine Street Solutions to develop a website to help keep neighbors informed about the bill and help them connect with local elected officials. In mid-March of 2013, days after a presentation by Jim Cohen before the Yarmouth Town Council involving numerous comments from local residents, the Town of Chebeague Island voted to have the legislation withdrawn. This step allowed the two communities a fresh opportunity to work together on mutual solutions that can work for the long term. The dispute was covered by both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald, both of which included quotes from Jim Cohen.
Energy: Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion in the Northeast
Since early 2014, our firm has successfully represented a large interstate pipeline company before the Maine PUC in advancing two significant new interstate pipeline expansion projects. The larger of the two projects was designed to provide a firm and reasonably priced source of fuel for natural gas-fired generators providing electricity to consumers in Maine and New England. The Maine PUC is charged with implementation of the Energy Cost Reduction Act, a 2013 law (in which the firm was actively involved) that authorizes the State to direct execution of a contract for new natural gas pipeline capacity. The so-called energy cost reduction contract, or ECRC, will provide financing for up to $75 million per year upon a finding that the contract's benefits will outweigh its costs and that the contract is commercially reasonable and in the public interest.
After more than two years of extensive litigation, the Maine PUC selected our client's project in July 2016 as the best option for an ECRC, and directed Maine's transmission and distribution utilities to negotiate and execute of a contract for capacity on this project. The ECRC, which will be conditioned on regional participation on the project, and will enable the development of additional pipeline capacity needed to increase the availability and supply of natural gas into New England.
Verrill has guided the project through every stage of this extensive MPUC litigation, including researching, drafting, discovery, witness examination, filing briefs, motions, and testimony, and developing a successful strategy.
Emera Maine: Support of Favorable Legislation
In 2015, we helped Emera Maine work with multiple stakeholders to pass legislation requiring the Maine PUC to facilitate an examination of alternatives to net energy billing to support solar energy development in Maine. To accomplish this goal, we successfully argued to legislators and other government officials that they should not adopt a half dozen other bills that would have raised electric rates in order to subsidize the cost of solar generation in Maine.
Summit Natural Gas of Maine: Opposition to Adverse Legislation
For the past several years, we have represented Summit Natural Gas of Maine before the Maine Legislature, including successfully opposing legislative efforts that would have interfered with Summit's ability to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build natural gas pipelines in the Augusta, Maine region and in the region north of Portland.
Water: Secure Land for a New Water Tank
For roughly one year, Verrill worked with longtime client Gardiner Water District, and its engineering firm Wright-Pierce, to secure land to allow the Water District to construct a one million gallon water tank in Farmingdale. The tank, which will help improve water pressure and the future integration of the Gardiner and Hallowell Water Districts, will be located on the former Kennebec Heights Country Club, which property was purchased by Central Maine Power as part of its Maine Power Reliability Program transmission project. The Verrill team helped the District negotiate with Central Maine Power to acquire the land and finalize the terms of the acquisition. The team also helped the District work with the Maine Drinking Water Program, which is financing a portion of the project using State Revolving Loan Funds. On May 5th, the Drinking Water Program hosted a celebration of project, which represented the 200 millionth dollar of funds disbursed through the SRF program. Verrill helped with the planning of the event, which was chronicled by the Kennebec Journal. The final closing took place approximately two months later.