Politics

Democrats blast Baker after adviser helped energy companies win big state contracts

The Globe has reported that Governor Charlie Baker’s top political adviser also worked as a paid consultant for two companies that recently landed massive clean energy contracts in Massachusetts.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/File 2017
The Globe has reported that Governor Charlie Baker’s top political adviser also worked as a paid consultant for two companies that recently landed massive clean energy contracts in Massachusetts.

A Democrat challenging Governor Charlie Baker is decrying “a clear conflict of interest” after the Globe reported Baker’s top political adviser also worked as a paid consultant for two companies that recently landed massive clean energy contracts in Massachusetts.

Democrat Jay Gonzalez said Tuesday that “because of this apparent conflict, the governor should release all public records related to this procurement including any and all e-mails sent or received by the governor’s office. The public deserves a governor who looks out for their interests, not a governor who uses his office to reward political insiders and big-dollar donors.”

Jim Conroy, who managed Baker’s 2014 campaign and is a key adviser on his reelection bid this year, also worked with Vineyard Wind LLC and Central Maine Power Co., helping them beat out competitors for what will be two of New England’s biggest energy projects.

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Baker administration officials say Conroy did not — and could not — influence the procurement decisions.

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“The governor’s office does not control the project selection process as state law requires the utility companies to choose projects based on strict guidelines such as cost, permitting, and environmental impact,” said Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton, reprising a statement she had earlier sent to the Globe.

Bob Massie, the other Democrat running for governor, also dinged the administration.

Conroy “has been using his unique insights and access to Baker’s thinking and advisors to help particular companies on the other side win key contracts,” Massie said. “We are moving too slow on every aspect of renewable energy and this kind of double-dealing is a great example of why.”

Guyton noted that the Baker administration is moving forward “with the largest procurement of renewable energy” in the history of Massachusetts.

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Conroy helped Vineyard Wind, a joint venture owned by Connecticut-based Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, win contracts last week that would enable a roughly $2 billion, 100-turbine wind farm to be built about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

He also helped Central Maine Power land contracts so the company can build a nearly 150-mile, $950 million power line to import electricity for Massachusetts from Hydro-Quebec, an electric utility company in Canada. Central Maine Power won the contracts in March after Eversource Energy’s rival project, Northern Pass, was rejected by regulators in New Hampshire.

Conroy works for Boston-based Novus Group, which bills itself as a strategic consulting firm, as part of the Central Maine Power effort.

On the wind farm effort, Conroy works with Christian Scorzoni of the Boston public affairs firm Travaglini, Eisenberg & Kiley LLC, which lobbies on behalf of Vineyard Wind.

Conroy came to each job separately, though both projects are connected to Avangrid. Central Maine Power operates as a direct subsidiary of Avangrid, while Vineyard Wind, as a joint venture, has more autonomy. Avangrid is controlled by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.

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Conroy declined to comment Tuesday.

The bidding for both sets of contracts was set in motion by a 2016 state law, signed by Baker, aimed at diversifying the state’s energy supplies.

The winners were selected by a committee consisting of representatives from the state’s three investor-owned electric utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — as well as the state Department of Energy Resources. The state agency wrote the rules for how the bidding would be handled and plays an advisory role in the evaluation process, though it has the authority to pick a winner if the utilities can’t agree.

State officials say the utilities made the decision in both the Central Maine Power and the Vineyard Wind selections.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com.