Despite the need to reduce energy costs and our dependence on fossil fuels, and the promise of action by Governor LePage, this past legislative session Maine achieved almost no progress towards these goals.
The inside story on the governor’s two energy bills offers a fascinating look at the Administration’s take on energy, and, ultimately, their failure to persuade legislators to go their way.
The LePage Administration’s two major energy bills were printed on March 12, 2012. One bill, the subject of Part I of this blog post, dealt with energy efficiency and heating technologies (LD 1864). The other bill, which I’ll discuss in Part II, dealt with renewable energy policy (LD 1863).
The efficiency bill would have put the governor even more in charge of Efficiency Maine’s budgets and leadership of its Board of Directors—a dangerous move when his public statements and proposals show a lack of support for energy efficiency. It would have diverted money from Efficiency Maine toward programs that would put utility profits ahead of reducing energy costs for consumers. It also would have made it easier for the Administration to raid efficiency funding for unrelated purposes. (Several months ago he proposed a $15 million raid to supplement LIHEAP purchases, for example.)
Ironically, the bill that would have undermined Maine’s efficiency programs came on the heels of Efficiency Maine’s Annual Report, which indicated they had just completed their best year on record, helping Maine consumers save more energy ($450 million worth) at a lower cost than ever before (saving energy at a cost of 3 cents/kwh for electricity and about $1/gallon for oil—you can’t beat those prices!) During the public hearing there was no evidence given that Efficiency Maine was not working successfully.
The Legislature held public hearings on both the efficiency and renewable bills on March 14, just 48 hours after the bills were printed. The bills demonstrated the continued disconnect between the governor’s simplistic energy ideology and real energy solutions Maine people and businesses want, need, and deserve. At public hearings, most testified opposed to both bills. Each bill had two work sessions the week after the hearing, and was then voted out of committee—10 days from start to finish.
Both bills as originally proposed would have significantly set back Maine’s clean energy policies, which are generally the result of bipartisan legislation considered and negotiated over many years. Thankfully, legislators worked to significantly amend each bill, to strip out the most extreme rollbacks, although neither bill as amended was especially positive from a clean energy or environmental perspective.
The energy efficiency bill as amended got a unanimous vote by the committee and went on to be passed without debate by House and Senate. The renewable energy bill got a bipartisan majority (9-4 in committee) for a preferred version of the bill. It went through four weeks of delay, debate, amendments, and aggressive lobbying by CMP, the Administration, and their legislative allies.
The final amended efficiency bill includes several provisions of minor importance. Technically it did not give the Administration or Legislature more budget authority, although it may increase expectations that levels of efficiency investment will still be treated in a very politicized way. That is because Maine is the only state in the country where the amount of ratepayer investment in energy efficiency is determined by the Legislature, not by a Public Utilities Commission in a more objective fashion. Perhaps that is why Maine has the lowest per capita rate of investment in cost-effective energy efficiency in New England, despite repeated calls by the public and businesses to move forward.
The final efficiency bill did not give the governor greater control over board leadership (current law already allows him to appoint the board.) It did include a $500,000 pilot project for electric heating systems (e.g. heat pumps), which was heavily lobbied for by electric utilities. However, it does not rob money from Efficiency Maine to pay for it, as was the case in the original bill. It seems that lawmakers and others largely ignored the fact that Efficiency Maine already offers consumer loans for electric heating systems and already has two electric heating pilot programs in the works. These three pilot programs should provide information about the costs and benefits of these new approaches—a small silver lining.
This energy efficiency bill became law without the governor’s signature. It is telling that Governor LePage refused to sign his own bill after it was amended to receive unanimous legislative approval.