By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican leaders said Monday that the case of the $36 million-a-year typo isn’t as simple as it seems, because current legislators might not agree with their predecessors who passed the original bill in 2013.
“It isn’t as simple as just grabbing a bottle of Wite-Out and inserting a word,” said Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, to reporters Monday afternoon. “We want to make sure that everyone who was involved has an opportunity to be heard before we make a decision about how we proceed.”
At issue is a 2013 law that allows the Maine Public Utilities Commission to set the budget for Efficiency Maine, an organization that helps homeowners and businesses insulate their properties or install more efficient energy systems.
The controversy is whether the Legislature intended for Efficiency Maine funding to capitalize on transmission and distribution costs or if it meant to include the electricity itself.
That’s where the typo — a missing “and” — comes in. Hanging in the balance is whether funding for Efficiency Maine will increase by $59 million with the “and,” or by $23 million without it. Either way, the increase would be funded by a surcharge on electric ratepayers.
An after-deadline bill proposed by Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport to restore the “and” was rejected last week by the Legislative Council.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he has proposed another bill that could fix the situation but wouldn’t say how.
“I have a bill that has been drafted in regards to a fix to this. I’m not going to talk about what that bill says,” said Fredette. “I don’t think it’s helpful to have other bills out there that are ginning up conversations and emotions so that it takes away from the ability for us, I think, to have a quiet conversation about an important issue.”
Officials with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who were involved in lobbying in favor of the omnibus energy bill, said the intent of the original bill was never unclear, and the new interpretation will have serious effects on businesses and homeowners.
“This mistaken [PUC] decision will send Maine backward, with far higher energy bills, which will hurt everyone from individual households to the state’s largest employers,” said Dylan Voorhees of the council during a news conference Monday at the State House.
Owners of energy efficiency businesses said the PUC’s decision could hurt the industry, which for two years has been expecting a certain level of support from the landmark energy bill. Efficiency Maine will cement the size of its projects for the next three years this summer.
Thibodeau said that sector will continue to thrive regardless of what happens with the funding for Efficiency Maine.
“The good news for them folks who have made some investments is there’s an extra $25 million coming out of the pocket of ratepayers to fund Efficiency Maine, so they’ll have more business than they did last year,” he said.