In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about Governor LePage’s energy bills, especially his attack on energy efficiency. Politically speaking, his renewable energy bill was even more fascinating. LD 1863 as first printed would have significantly undermined Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which provides policy incentives to increase the state’s energy diversity and independence through renewable electricity generation.
A comprehensive report this year from London Economics and the Maine Public Utilities Commission found that regional renewable energy policies are providing enormous economic benefits to Maine, while having an incredibly small impact on electricity consumers. The governor’s bill would have made HydroQuebec’s massive dams eligible for incentives from Maine ratepayers.
Contrary to statements by Governor LePage, current law allows HydroQuebec or any other large hydro facility to sell power in Maine. There are no hydro dams in Maine above the 100 MW limit for our renewable policy incentives. It seems that HydroQuebec, the government-owned Canadian energy producer, simply has no desire to sell cheap power to Maine consumers.
The governor’s bill also sought to undermine the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative through a clumsy provision that was eventually stripped out of both versions of the bill coming out of committee. The Minority version of the bill was otherwise basically unchanged from the original bill—and thus a major clean energy rollback. Both versions call on the PUC to solicit bids for new contracts for supplying power to Maine.
The Majority version took out the giveaway to HydroQuebec and instead allowed for bidders to identify and suggest changes to our laws that might help them lower prices. The Majority report was bipartisan but far from unanimous. Supporters of the Minority report, including the Governor’s Office, clung to a baseless theory that HydroQuebec would offer Maine cheap power, when all evidence shows practically zero prospects for that actually happening. They were willing to jeopardize Maine’s progress on renewable energy, and all the related jobs and businesses in Maine, on a hope and a prayer.
After the committee voted, there were about four weeks of waiting for further action. It was difficult to tell what the waiting game was really about. Supporters of the Minority report (which included most of the Republicans in the Senate, led by Senator Thibodeau) perhaps believed that their version had the best chance when put into the crucible of final session days when the most contentious bills are sometimes played against each other politically. The Minority report faced a simple problem: it was almost universally opposed by stakeholders, including major employers, industry, and construction businesses—its lone supporter was Central Maine Power.
An amendment to satisfy the paper mills (which reduced the impact to the part of the RPS they care about) helped push the Minority bill through the Senate on party lines on the second-to–last-day of the regular session. On the last day, the House passed the Majority bill by a solid margin (you can see the roll-call of votes here).
This situation is known as “non-concurrence,” and it happens several times each session. The way out is usually for one chamber to back down and “concede” to the vote in the other chamber. Very rarely, there will be a “committee of conference” where three Senators and three Representatives will meet and try to agree. That’s what happened with LD 1863 after 11:00 p.m. on the last regular day of the legislative session.
The Administration and their Senate allies were unable to come up with or support any compromise that didn’t fundamentally undermine the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Several ideas were discussed, some of which were so convoluted as to baffle the energy lobbyists in the hallways. In the end, Senate leaders and the Administration declined to support the Majority report even though it would have led to completely free and open competition for a low-cost power contract. They decided they would rather have no bill. And that’s what happened. The committee of conference reported back to both chambers that they were “unable to agree” and LD 1863 was considered dead.
So, despite the need for— and promise by the governor— major progresson energy issues during the 125th Legislature, the biennium achieved precious little to reduce energy costs or our dependence on fossil fuels.