By Joshua Miller and Jon Chesto Globe Staff
Boston Globe news story
The top political adviser to Governor Charlie Baker also provided strategic and communications advice as a paid consultant to two companies that recently landed massive clean energy contracts in Massachusetts.
Jim Conroy, an experienced political strategist who managed Baker’s 2014 campaign and is a key adviser on his reelection bid, also worked with Vineyard Wind LLC and Central Maine Power Co., helping the companies beat out competitors for what will be two of New England’s biggest energy projects.
Conroy helped Vineyard Wind, a joint venture owned by Connecticut-based Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, to win contracts that would enable a wind farm to be built with as many as 100 turbines spinning about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Conroy also helped Central Maine Power land contracts so the company can build a nearly 150-mile power line to import electricity from Hydro-Quebec in Canada through western Maine for Massachusetts. Central Maine Power, also owned by Avangrid, won the contracts after Eversource Energy’s rival project, Northern Pass, was rejected by regulators in New Hampshire.
Conroy, who is not a registered lobbyist, confirmed the arrangements to the Globe. He said he started working on both projects last year and provides help with big-picture communications strategy and branding.
Baker administration officials say Conroy did not — and could not — influence the procurement decisions.
“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’s communications director, Lizzy Guyton. “The evaluation team, comprised of the utility companies, selected projects for both renewable energy procurements based on numerical rankings for price criteria submitted by the bidders.”
Guyton also noted that an independent evaluator selected by the attorney general has monitored the entire process.
“The administration looks forward to the independent evaluator’s report,” she said.
Conroy works on behalf of the Boston-based Novus Group — which bills itself as a strategic consulting group — as part of the Central Maine Power effort.
On the wind farm effort, Conroy works with Christian Scorzoni of 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, meanwhile, is controlled by Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.)
The bidding for both sets of contracts was set in motion by a 2016 state law aimed at diversifying the state’s energy supplies. One competition ensued for contracts to build a power line through northern New England and the other involved offshore wind contracts.
Both competitions were overseen by a selection committee consisting of the state’s three investor-owned electric utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — and the state Department of Energy Resources.
Central Maine Power was a late entrant in the race for the hydropower connection. One big selling point for its $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect project was that it would be hundreds of millions of dollars less expensive than the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire and another rival line through Vermont. Central Maine Power ultimately won the Massachusetts contracts in late March.
Central Maine hired Novus Group last year to help with public relations and branding for the power-line project. Novus brought Conroy on board as a consultant for assistance.
“I tried to get the best and brightest folks I could,” said Paul Scapicchio, Novus president. “Jim’s just a great guy, and a professional. He’s really good at media, he’s really good at polling. . . . Jim helped us formulate our strategy.”
Vineyard Wind was a more recent winner. The Baker administration announced on Wednesday that Vineyard Wind was selected for contracts to finance an 800-megawatt wind farm in federal waters south of the island, expected to cost about $2 billion.
Conroy provided strategic advice to Vineyard Wind.
“He did a great job consulting,” said Vineyard Wind spokesman Scott Farmelant, who also worked with Novus on the Central Maine project. “He provided a lot of valuable insight into our communications strategy.”
Conroy wasn’t the only close Baker confidant involved in the clean-energy bidding. Will Keyser, another outside political adviser of the governor’s, helps Deepwater Wind with communications strategy. Providence-based Deepwater didn’t win its bid for Massachusetts power, but it did win a contract to deliver power to Rhode Island in a bidding process that piggybacked on the one in Massachusetts.
Conroy served as Baker’s campaign manager during the Republican’s successful 2014 race against Democrat Martha Coakley. He joined state government when Baker took office in January 2015 and served as a top adviser, effectively the governor’s number-two staffer in the executive branch.
After leaving state government in March 2016, Conroy has remained close to the governor, advising him on political matters and providing him and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito with public messaging advice on a range of matters.
Like many other former top state officials, he transitioned into consulting work for private clients. He also worked on political campaigns.
In 2016, he held top roles on two Massachusetts ballot campaigns. One was a high-profile effort to enact a major expansion of charter schools that ended up being the most expensive initiative campaign in state history.
The other was the campaign to defeat the effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Both campaigns, which Baker strongly supported, fell short on Election Day.
Conroy, a Waltham resident, has been intimately involved in planning Baker’s reelection campaign. The Baker campaign paid his firm $5,000 per month in the last three months of 2017, state campaign finance records show.