By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
PORTLAND, Maine — Two conservation groups and a building contractors association have petitioned the state’s utilities regulators to reconsider a decision to set a cap on state energy efficiency funding at the the lower of two possible levels.
The 2-1 decision hinged on the absence of one “and” in the version of the bill approved by the Legislature.
The Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals submitted the petition Wednesday morning, saying the commission’s legal reasoning was incorrect and it should reverse the decision.
“The PUC’s original order goes out of its way to justify ignoring the Legislature’s clear intent,” Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a prepared statement.
The petition comes after bill LD 1215 adding the missing “and” cleared the Legislature’s Energy Committee in a 10-1 vote Tuesday. The groups petitioning the PUC on Wednesday filed the request at the 20-day deadline for contesting a final order from the commission.
The decision caps funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust’s electricity efficiency programs at about $23 million starting next year, which is about $36 million less than the head of Efficiency Maine, lawmakers and the groups filing the petition Wednesday say was intended.
The PUC recently approved a $18.5 million payment from the state’s electric utilities to the Efficiency Maine Trust for its 2016 budget, which the agency expected to “ramp up” in the coming years to meet a new requirement under the 2013 Omnibus Energy bill to invest in all projects that can defer power use at a lower cost than buying that amount of electricity.
Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, said after the decision and during testimony on bills related to this issue before the Legislature that the funding cut for electricity programs could cause the trust to curtail some of its heating efficiency programs, as it has specific goals set in law to fund electricity efficiency improvements.
Efficiency Maine’s programs use money utilities put into electricity rates, proceeds from a regional cap-and-trade auction and other funds to subsidize electricity and heating efficiency investments for homeowners and businesses. That’s why contractors in those areas are concerned about the possible funding cut.
“Our members were on a trajectory of growth and increased employment as a result of what they thought was a more predictable commitment to energy savings programs: that the Omnibus Energy Bill and the stewardship of Efficiency Maine were insulated from political ebbs and tides,” Bill Childs, president of the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, said in a statement about the petition Wednesday.
The petition argues that the commission was wrong not to consider the legislative record related to the massive 2013 Omnibus Energy Bill, which indicated that lawmakers intended the funding cap to be set at around $59 million and not the lower amount.
The bill called for that cap to be set by a calculation of 4 percent of “total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales,” a term whose meaning was debated among the commissioners.
PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy and Commissioner Carlisle McLean argued the term was not ambiguous and referred only to the portion of electricity sales related to the cost of power lines and other infrastructure, or transmission and distribution costs.
Commissioner David Littell argued in his dissent that the term was ambiguous, opening the door for the commission to consider legislative history in clarifying the term’s meaning.
The PUC has 20 days to agree to accept or deny the petition. The issue may also be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.