LePage Appointees Vote to Ignore and Subvert Legislative Intent
Augusta, ME – In a surprising and unfortunate development, Mainers will be paying higher electric bills because the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today voted (2-1) to severely limit funding for energy efficiency programs that reduce electricity costs for Maine homes and businesses, despite legislative intent to the contrary.
The question before the PUC involved implementation of the Omnibus Energy bill passed by the Legislature in 2014. The Omnibus Energy bill was widely hailed for the benefits it would provide to electricity ratepayers by increasing support for energy efficiency as a way to further lower energy bills. However the Commission today voted to severely limit energy efficiency funding at a level that would be lower than the budget the PUC previously approved for Efficiency Maine for FY16.
“This is an outrageous decision without merit that will cost Mainers hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “I was shocked and appalled by how willing two Commissioners were to disregard the clear intent of the Legislature and apparently put ideology ahead of the interests of ratepayers.”
“Investment in energy efficiency has proven to lower costs for Maine ratepayers,” said Ben Tettlebaum, attorney with Conservation Law Foundation. “But what is most remarkable about today’s decision is that it is not just bad policy, it also flies in the face of clearly established Maine law.”
Each dollar spent by Efficiency Maine to help save electricity yields seven dollars in net savings for consumers. The PUC decision would put a $22 million annual limit on efficiency spending, curtailing consumer savings year after year. (For reference, the efficiency budgets developed by the Trust to maximize consumer savings range from $32-$60 million/year.) This cap will cost Maine ratepayers $70 – $265 million in missed savings each year it is applied.
The two Commissioners based their decision on a twisted reading of the new statute, and ignored the entire body of testimony, evidence, and legal argument submitted by parties in the proceeding.
In addition, the decision went against a letter sent to the Commission by a bipartisan group of legislators who served on the Legislature’s energy committee when the Omnibus bill was enacted. The letter clarified the Legislature’s intent to increase efficiency funding above the status quo, subject to a cap of nearly $60 million per year.
The Commissioners also voted to subject efficiency funding specifically for industrial customers to the new cap, which will leave Efficiency Maine with very limited resources to help paper mills, hospitals, ski areas and other large energy users to lower their electricity costs.
“It’s ironic that conservatives tend to frown upon judicial activism, where judges—which includes Public Utilities Commissioners—apply their own view of the world over the intent of elected legislators,” said Voorhees. “Here we have two LePage appointees, including his former chief legal counsel, doing exactly that.”
“We will file a ‘motion to reconsider’ with the Commission in the near future, but we don’t really expect that to change the outcome,” said Voorhees. “Therefore we will be considering all of our options to further contest this decision, including a legal appeal.”
The decision comes just weeks after the same Commissioners voted 2-1 to overturn its previous decision to approve contracts with two wind farms at extremely low prices.
“This is a very disturbing trend for the new Public Utilities Commission,” said Voorhees. “The governor has made his political objections to renewable energy and energy efficiency well known. However, the Commission is supposed to base its judgment on the law and on what will lower costs for ratepayers. The decision in these cases subjects Mainers to higher bills and more volatile electric rates.”