Second failure by PUC to honor legislative intent means Maine Senate should now take action to correct error
Augusta, ME – The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today voted (2-1) to deny two motions urging them to reconsider their recent decision to severely limit funding for energy efficiency programs that reduce electricity costs for Maine homes and businesses. This cap will cost Maine ratepayers roughly $190 million in missed savings each year it is applied. The Commission voted 2-1 to deny the motions, one of which was filed by the Office of the Public Advocate, and the other jointly by the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals.
The issue 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 vote in March would leave energy-efficiency funding at a level that would be lower than the budget the PUC previously approved for Efficiency Maine for FY16.
Parties will have until mid-June to file an appeal of the PUC decision to the Maine Superior Court. However the Legislature could still act before then to correct the typo. Although the Legislature has made considerable progress in advancing a solution in a bipartisan fashion, the outcome remains uncertain.
“This whole unfortunate episode could have been put to rest by the Commission today,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Setting this drastic limit on energy savings goes against the clear intent of the Legislature and will harm Maine people and businesses if not fixed. We urge the Senate to take up the simple fix bill, pass it like the House did, and send it to the governor as quickly as possible.”
“The Commission has abandoned its last opportunity to honor the intent of the Legislature and act in the best interest of Maine ratepayers.” said Ben Tettlebaum, attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “That likely means taking this fight to the courts, unless the Legislature acts first and a clean bill becomes law. Sadly, today’s decision will end up costing Mainers more money and wasting the government’s time.”
“It is baffling how the PUC could rule against the clear intent of the Legislature and come up with a ruling that is both illogical and deprives the public of a major opportunity to lower their energy costs, and which could put dozens of people to work,” said Robert Howe, CEO of the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals.
Each dollar spent by Efficiency Maine to help save electricity yields five dollars in 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 Efficiency Maine Trust to maximize consumer savings range from $32-$70 million/year.) This cap will cost Maine ratepayers roughly $190 million in missed savings each year it is applied.
The two Commissioners who voted to deny the motions recited the same arguments justifying the original decision, including their unique and literalistic reading of the law, and a judgment that Efficiency Maine will have enough funds at the much lower limit.
“We strongly appreciate the bipartisan leadership behind the simple fix bill,” said Voorhees. “The committee spoke clearly, the House voted overwhelmingly, but now the bill is stalled in the Senate. An appeal to the courts should always be the last resort, so the best thing to do now is to put the word back into the law as it was intended.”