Testimony in Opposition to LD 340, An Act Regarding the Purpose and Responsibilities of the State Regulatory System for Public Utilities
Senator Lawrence, Representative Zeigler, and members of the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, my name is Jack Shapiro. I am the Climate & Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM has been working for more than 60 years to protect, restore, and conserve Maine’s environment, on behalf of our 25,000 members and supporters. I’m here today to testify in opposition to LD 340, An Act Regarding the Purpose and Responsibilities of the State Regulatory System for Public Utilities.1
We encourage the Committee to oppose this legislation for two main reasons. First, consideration of greenhouse gas emissions by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is in the public interest, and fully consistent with public policy set by the Legislature to address climate change. Second, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to clean energy is inseparable from the Commission’s other key responsibilities of balancing ratepayer costs and reliability.
The provision that LD 340 would remove was put in place by the Legislature via LD 1682 in 2021, and for good reason.2 Over the past several years, the Legislature has rightfully recognized the threat of climate change and has set ambitious targets for renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions to address that threat.
Climate change is already impacting our state. Headlines from just the last several weeks include climate impacts like invasive species threatening the clam fishery, warm weather imperiling the logging industry, flooding, storm damage, coastal threats, and warmer winters hurting Maine’s winter recreation pastimes and the businesses that depend on them.3 4 5 6 7
The Commission’s jurisdiction includes a large and growing proportion of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s ninth biennial report on progress toward greenhouse gas reduction goals, transportation emissions are roughly half of Maine’s energy-related emissions, and commercial and residential energy uses make up an additional one-third.8 As we pursue electrification of our cars and trucks, as well as heating our buildings as laid out in Maine’s Climate Action Plan, this means that the PUC will add these emissions to its purview, in addition to those emissions that come from electric power and natural gas utilities, which it already oversees.
Emissions reductions are integral to the Commission’s other responsibilities around cost and reliability. Renewable energy projects routinely offer energy at lower cost than fossil fuel-generated power and do not create harmful energy price volatility like natural gas generation. As this Committee well knows, the large increases in standard offer supply prices of 83% last year8 and 49% this year9 were driven by high fuel prices for natural gas generators in New England, where natural gas still provides about half of our electricity.
Numerous current dockets and issues at the Commission sit at the intersection of these responsibilities, with implications for both Maine’s climate obligations and ratepayer costs, from rate design and distributed energy interconnections to non-wires alternatives, energy storage, and electrification. And the Commission’s just-launched integrated grid planning process explicitly requires utility planning to incorporate achieving Maine’s climate and clean energy goals, as directed by the Legislature.
And finally, removing climate from the Commission’s area of responsibility will not make the mounting damages from climate change go away. Quite the opposite: analysis done on behalf of the Maine Climate Council found that failure to act on climate change would result in tens of billions of dollars of damage in the next few decades to coastal buildings and infrastructure, and lost tourism, beachfronts, employment, and valuable ecosystems.9
Including Maine’s emissions reduction obligations in the Commission’s core responsibilities is part of a rational, whole-government approach to navigating the energy transition and successfully achieving the climate and clean energy requirements set out by the Legislature.
I urge the Committee to vote Ought Not To Pass on LD 340, and would welcome any questions you have.