By Mal Leary
MPBN news story
AUGUSTA, Maine – Lawmakers may act to overturn a controversial Maine Public Utilities Commission decision that would slash programs to help people heat their homes and reduce electricity costs.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, while defending the PUC’s conclusion, wants it overturned with legislation, if necessary.
In the PUC’s 2-1 vote, Gov. Paul LePage appointees Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean chose to follow the precise wording of the sweeping omnibus energy bill passed by the Legislature in 2013. The problem is that a single word was missing from a crucial definition in the bill. And so instead of increasing the the cap on funding for Efficiency Maine, as the Legislature intended, commissioners voted to limit it.
Rep. Fredette says the PUC was correct in following the letter of the law. And while he disagrees with the outcome, he’s upset with critics who say the PUC’s action was ideologically driven.
“We all have an interest in looking at this issue and how it can be solved and I don’t think trying to cast stones at the Public Utilities Commission is the way to solve it,” he says. “I think we need to sit down, take a look at it and how to solve it.”
Earlier this year, in a letter to the commission, members of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee from both parties made it clear that their intent was to increase funding for energy efficiency. They wanted a cap of nearly $60 million per year, while the PUC’s decision caps spending at about $22 million.
Sen. Dawn Hill, a Democrat from Cape Neddick who serves on the committee, says the PUC should reconsider its decision.
“I suggest they go take a look at the bill, take a look at all of the documentation that surrounded it, talk to the members who were on the committee,” she says. “They certainly are going to have the best recall of what it is they intended. And then give that information to the PUC, let them re-consider it and hopefully this time they get it right.”
But Hill says if they don’t, lawmakers should consider a bill that fixes, what she calls, “a clerical error” so that energy efficiency programs are not cut.
Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says Fredette is wrong when he says the PUC’s reading of the law was correct.
“I really strongly disagree with that conclusion, but I do appreciate that Rep. Fredette appears to want to solve this problem and it needs to be solved for the interests of Maine people, otherwise our energy bills are going to be higher than they need to be,” he says.
Voorhees says the council will be formally asking the PUC to reconsider its decision. If that fails, the group may go to court over the issue. He says the Legislature could also act to insert the dropped word from the definition, which would remove all ambiguity on what the Legislature intends for the program.
While that step is appealing, Hill and other lawmakers are worried any attempt to amend the hard-fought 2013 omnibus energy law could see the whole thing unravel. Lawmakers had to pass the bill over the veto of LePage.