The state needs a governor with the vision and patience to build an ocean wind industry.
The Editorial Board
Portland Press Herald editorial
It’s too soon to know the identity of Maine’s next governor, but the one we’ve got now just gave us all a good reminder of why we need a change.
The three members of the Public Utilities Commission, all LePage appointees, voted Tuesday to toss out a previously negotiated power purchase agreement with the University of Maine’s public-private partnership, known as Maine Aqua Ventus. The move is likely to kill a first-of-its-kind floating wind farm, planned to be built off Monhegan Island.
The PUC commissioners said that they were trying to protect Maine ratepayers, who would be buying power generated by the two-turbine installation at above-market rates. But those savings, about 73 cents a month in the first years, would come at the cost of killing off a Maine-based ocean wind industry that could supply the world with patented deep-water wind power technology, bringing to the state hundreds of good-paying manufacturing jobs and attracting billions in private investment.
Gov. LePage’s leadership, or lack of leadership, has hampered clean-energy development throughout his time in office.
He has repeatedly vetoed bills to modernize solar power regulation, which had been a dynamic job creator until the Trump administration put a tariff on Chinese solar panels. And he used his veto of the omnibus energy bill of 2013 as leverage to tear up a previous power purchase contract with the Norwegian energy giant Statoil, which planned to test its own ocean wind concept off the coast of Maine. Statoil pulled up stakes here and invested $2.5 billion in Scotland, where its offshore project is beating projections for production. When the company left, it took its employees with it, along with any business it would have done with local vendors.
The governor’s hostility toward clean energy is based on his belief that nothing matters about energy policy except the price. He doesn’t consider that the state can help people conserve energy, lowering their bills even if the per-unit price goes up. He also overlooks the value in attracting investment to the state that will build an industry here to replace some of the jobs lost when the paper companies downsized.
LePage and his supporters like to tout Maine’s low unemployment rate as proof that his policies are working, but that tells only part of the story. The national unemployment rate has sunk just as much as Maine’s, and we lag most states in the rate of new jobs created and wage increases.
A low unemployment rate in a rapidly aging state should be no surprise. But developing new industries that would create a future for Maine kids that doesn’t involve leaving the state and would attract young workers to move here with their families will take more than pinching pennies on electric rates. It takes patience and vision – two things the current governor lacks.
Once the primaries are settled, it will be time to stop paying so much attention to Gov. LePage and see which of the candidates who want to replace him has a plan to rebuild what he has broken.