Lawmakers decide that the governor’s strategy to cut power bills would impede green power-generation projects.
by Tom Bell, MaineToday Media State House Writer
AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage wants to lower electricity bills by changing the state’s mandates for renewable energy.
He’s going to have to wait.
A legislative panel voted unanimously Wednesday to effectively set aside his proposal to cap the amount of renewable energy that power companies must buy or generate at current levels.
The governor’s office saw the bill, L.D. 1570, as a modest attempt to change Maine’s current law. Opponents said changing the rules would give the impression that Maine has an unstable regulatory climate and discourage investment in green energy projects such as wind, thermal and biomass.
While the bill initially had support among Republicans on the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, opposition from producers of renewable energy raised questions about whether it would do more harm than good.
Also, large energy consumers, such as paper mills, showed little enthusiasm for the bill because their savings would have been relatively modest.
Maine law requires power companies to get at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2017. LePage wanted to cap the level at 4 percent, the current standard, and eliminate the law’s 1 percentage-point increase for each year through 2017.
Capping the level of renewable energy at 4 percent would have saved homeowners an average of 40 cents a month, according to calculations done by The Portland Press Herald and reviewed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. A typical residential customer of Central Maine Power Co. pays $80 a month.
The cap would have damaged the state’s reputation as an attractive place for investment in renewable-energy projects, said Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, who serves on the energy committee.
“It was like throwing a stick of dynamite with a burning fuse into the marketplace for renewable energy,” he said. “The committee pulled the fuse out of the stick.”>/p>
The committee rewrote the bill to keep the current mandates in place. It also added an amendment to require the PUC to examine whether the mandates are harming ratepayers and report back to the Legislature next year about possible changes.
The proposal endorsed by the committee will now go to the House and Senate.
Tony Buxton, a lawyer representing some paper mills and other industrial ratepayers in Maine, said the committee created a compromise that keeps the law for renewable energy while putting greater focus on lowering costs.
“It’s good news for everyone,” he said.