Legislators who helped craft a bipartisan, broad-based energy deal ask their colleagues to reaffirm their support.
by David Woodsome and Sara Gideon
Portland Press Herald op-ed
AUGUSTA — When we truly listen to one another, we can accomplish so much.
That’s exactly what happened with the comprehensive solar bill the governor vetoed this week.
Here we were, a group of very different people. We’re not just talking about the differences between Republicans and Democrats, but folks representing a wide range of stakeholders – local businesses, municipalities, utilities and environmentalists – who don’t necessarily see eye to eye. We all came to the table, along with the state official charged with representing the interests of utility ratepayers, and dug into the work before us.
And we listened to each other. We listened to each other as we analyzed complex information, as we engaged in give and take and put our heads together. It was hard work.
The result was truly good policy: a path forward for Maine that increases solar installation tenfold, creates 650 new jobs and protects 300 existing jobs and makes it easier for residents, communities, companies, farms and forestry businesses to take advantage of solar power. The bill, L.D. 1649, does this while lowering electricity bills for all electric customers – an estimated $58 million to $110 million in savings – and mitigating climate change.
This was collaboration in the true Maine spirit. You didn’t see any Washington-style bickering and gridlock here.
Gov. LePage and some of his supporters have opposed the efforts around this new solar policy. But recently, the governor reached out to Rep. Sara Gideon, the Democratic whip. This was in the final stretch of the legislative session, after many months of work by stakeholders and lawmakers, including a significant amendment from two Republicans on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee – Sen. David Woodsome, the co-chairman from North Waterboro, and Rep. Norman Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft – that put a focus on agriculture and increased protections for ratepayers.
We welcomed the opportunity to find common ground with the governor. Putting a modern solar policy in place together would be good for Maine.
Rep. Gideon went into the talks in good faith, willing to listen and knowing that another perspective could further improve our bill. She took his two proposals back to the coalition, which agreed to them.
We were delighted to be on the verge of a deal. But then the governor added a new demand.
This was an additional price cap on contracts – the bill that the Legislature passed already has three different ones to protect ratepayers – that was so radical and would be implemented so rapidly that it would put Maine’s local solar businesses in jeopardy. We investigated whether there was a way to make this work without destroying the integrity of the legislation. There was not.
We draw the line when it comes to Maine jobs – good-paying jobs of the future that provide opportunity for young people. We rejected this final demand, and the governor signed the veto letter in front of Rep. Gideon.
We now ask our colleagues in the Legislature to listen to the constituents who want this veto overridden.
Maine workers will benefit from the new markets the legislation opens up. It creates new opportunities, including grid-scale, community, commercial and industrial and agricultural.
Maine farms and forestry businesses rely heavily on electricity. The bill will help lower costs and even provide a possible additional source of income.
Maine solar businesses need the predictability the legislation provides. Maine’s outdated billing and credit system could be defunct in the near future, plunging businesses into uncertainty and putting the existing 300 solar jobs in danger.
Maine municipalities want to take advantage of new opportunities that will open up. Municipally developed community solar projects are an economic development tool that lowers costs for businesses as well as for residents and the towns and cities themselves.
Maine families will be better able to reap the benefits of solar power because of eased restrictions on participation in community projects. Residents can participate even if they are renters or if their houses are in deep shade. And the growth of good-paying clean energy jobs will create more opportunity for the young people in these families so they can build their lives in our state.
Maine has been lagging for too long in solar. As the only New England state without a comprehensive solar policy, it should be no surprise that we’re in the region’s last place in solar job creation and solar development.
This landmark legislation puts us in a position to lead the nation in 21st-century energy policy. We must embrace this opportunity and make this legislation law.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS David Woodsome, a Republican state senator from North Waterboro, is Senate chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and co-author of the amendment to L.D. 1649. Sara Gideon, a Democratic state representative from Freeport, is assistant House majority leader and sponsor of the legislation that created the process that led to L.D. 1649.