LePage measure would remove 100-megawatt cap for all renewables

AUGUSTA — State lawmakers Tuesday rekindled a debate over how and whether state policy should play favorites when it comes to renewable energy.

For the third time in as many legislative sessions, lawmakers are contemplating a state law that requires a certain amount of the power consumed in Maine comes from renewable resources.

Known as the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard, the law requires that at least 30 percent of the state's energy comes from renewable sources including solar, biomass, hydro and wind. The standard also requires that the generation facilities contributing to that mix are smaller in output, limited to 100 megawatts, with only wind energy being excluded from that limit.

A bill authored by Gov. Paul LePage's office would remove the 100-megawatt limit for all sectors of renewable energy, including hydropower. His top energy adviser said Tuesday the administration was flexible about changing the bill and was open to a simple expansion of the cap allowing generators of up to 400 megawatts to be included.

Patrick Woodcock, director of LePage's Energy Office, said leveling the playing field for all renewables, not ratcheting back Maine's commitment to green energy, was what the governor was after. Woodcock said any cap should be equally applied and would not favor one sector of renewable power over others.

Supporters of the bill say the change could open the door to cheap energy from Canada's massive hydro projects in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

That influx of juice could help drop Maine's electricity costs, making the state more attractive to manufacturing and other industries that consume large amounts of electricity, Woodcock told members of the Legislature's Energy Utilities and Technology Committee.

In February, the cost of industrial electricity was the 10th highest in the nation, Woodcock said.

"It's 34 percent higher than the national average," he said. From a regional standpoint, Maine's power was less expensive than other New England states, but Maine's manufacturing industries including the state's forest products and paper-making sectors are not competing on a regional basis, he said.

LePage has vowed to do all he can to lower Maine's energy costs, and Woodcock highlighted that again.

"As the world has become more globalized, there are two aspects of energy that we need to continue to prioritize: stability and low cost," Woodcock said.

He said the bill doesn't look to pick "winners and losers" but is designed to allow the market to sort that out.

He said he believes the governor and the Legislature want the same thing for Maine, and that is cheaper energy.

With an abundance of renewable energy production, Maine should better capitalize on its resources, Woodcock said.

The question the Legislature and LePage both want to answer is, "How do we ensure that our policies allow Maine to benefit to the maximum extent possible?" Woodcock asked.

He noted that Maine's wind energy producers benefited from federal tax credits and renewable energy credits offered by southern New England states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.

But opponents to changing the portfolio standard in Maine said investment and jobs from renewable development are substantial and lawmakers shouldn't tinker with a policy that is doing what it was intended to do: growing homegrown energy sources and creating jobs.

"There has been more investment in the state of Maine in renewable power than in any other industry in the state of Maine — over $2 billion of investment has been made here in the state," said Dan Riley, an Augusta-based lawyer representing the Maine Renewable Energy Association. Riley said he was in Augusta when lawmakers first crafted the portfolio standard in 1996, and the process was careful and on target.

Riley distributed a copy of Hydro-Quebec's annual report for 2011-12 and highlighted a portion of it that shows the company already operates 19 hydro plants smaller than 100 megawatts, which could, if the company wanted to, offer power to Maine.

Combined, those 19 plants had a capacity of 800 megawatts, compared to Maine's total hydro capacity of 622 megawatts, he said. The point was meant to illustrate how easily Hydro-Quebec could flood Maine's power markets to gain market dominance.

Companies that have helped build Maine's growing wind industry infrastructure also spoke to the committee Tuesday, pointing out the thousands of jobs and economic development the industry has triggered in Maine. They said inconsistent policy was their biggest fear.

"As a company of 47 years, consistency and predictability are very important to us," said Bill Scott, the chief engineer for Maine Drilling and Blasting. "If this bill were passed, it would introduce tremendous amounts of uncertainty in the clean energy market."

Scott said the introduction of the renewable standard in Maine had allowed his company to work on more than a dozen renewable projects in wind and hydro. He said the work was critical during a down economy when traditional construction work on roads, bridges and commercial development have been decreasing. He said it made up for as much as 15 percent of his companies' revenues in recent years.

"These nominal incentives in the renewable portfolio standard send a very important market signal to investors," Scott said. "Maine is open to clean-energy investment business and employment."

The committee will take up the bill again during a work session later this month.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Hart Daley's picture

Compassion - Ethics - Morals "Lost in Legislature"

I am truly convinced that all compassion for the people of Maine and our dire financial situation has been blown away with the green wind machine ideology. It would be ethical and morally sound to remove the 100 MW cap on all renewables and allow Canadian hydro power into and through our state as well as to capitalize on the hydro power available in our state. WATER IS A RENEWABLE SOURCE of energy.

Not only is hyrdo clean, it is plentiful and can deliver energy on demand when it is needed most at a far LOWER cost than expensive and inefficient wind generated energy.

WE, the people of the great state of Maine deserve to be allowed to purchase the lower priced energy for our homes. It will also serve to entice business back into our state if our energy costs are reduced.

I pray all the legislators take a rational look at the DISCRIMINATION they have condoned by enforcing a 100 MW cap on ALL renewable energy sources EXCLUDING WIND POWER....which does not produce any FULL TIME jobs for Maine families.

It is time to protect the interests of the very people who voted all of these legislators into office and stop catering to the temporary financial promises / bribes of the wind industry! Afford HYDRO POWER and ALL other renewables the same privileges given to wind....show some compassion....prove you have not completely lost all moral and ethical thought.

David Heikkinen's picture

LePage measure would remove 100 megawatt cap

A law that requires 30% of Maine's energy come from renewable resources , but caps the generating facilities to 100 megawatts sounds illogical to me. Of course wind energy does not have a 100 megawatt limit. (Angus King anybody?). Maine's people and business deserve the lowest possible energy costs. Any measure that tries to lower industrial energy from it's current 34% above the National average has merit.

This would be a very good thing to happen to Maine.

Despite their very strong hold on the corrupt Maine politic, the wind mafia must be expunged from Maine. The Baldacci Family, the Angus King Clan and the Obama Dictatorship are not going to go anywhere. Clean up your plastic bags and Styrofoam and pay the price corporate America, and corporate bonuses may need to be reclaimed to that end. Retarded representatives must be "furloughed." The United Nations must be unarmed. An overseeing citizenry must be in place to provide direction through popular voting for the proceeding activities including mandatory death penalties for voter manipulation. All future Capitalism must proceed under the precept of Mankind under Nature.

Nature must be the priority, UN Power must not!

Centralized UN power is NOT something we can afford to contemplate. Any assholes striving for that power are all pro personal power anti life. They must be eradicated for there to be any hope for any life at all.

Penny Gray's picture

This bill should pass. Maine

This bill should pass. Maine doesn't need the electricity, but we stand to gain enormously, for decades to come, from hosting the transmission of that clean powerful energy from Canada to the southern New England states. The stranded costs associated with industrial wind will far outweigh the temporary jobs created by that highly favored industry here in Maine. Business owners and residents deserve lower energy rates, and re-classifying hydropower over 100 MW as a renewable energy source is the right thing to do to protect our interests.

Alice Barnett's picture

blasting our mountain tops. nature

Maine Drilling and Blasting. "If this bill were passed, it would introduce tremendous amounts of uncertainty in the clean energy market."

How can you say drilling and blasting and green energy at the same time?

WIND literally blasts ice-age ecosystems off the face of the earth......

How many jobs in green energy in Maine? exclude administration...

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