Gov. Paul LePage’s energy initiatives, released earlier this week, have some good points and some bad points.
First, the good:
The governor’s proposed bills include two that profess to increase transparency and oversight. One would require the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate to show on their websites the cost of electricity fees and charges. The public sites would be required to show the impact on ratepayers of all rates and pricing.
This bill (LD 1875) also would require Efficiency Maine, a trust established in 2002 that is in part funded by electricity rates, to submit a “zero-based” budget to the Legislature each year. Zero-based budgeting means no automatic approval of previous spending levels. All line items must be approved anew. It makes sense to have keen oversight of any program funded wholly or partially by ratepayers.
A related bill, LD 1864, would establish a home-heating rebate program. A homeowner who installs energy-efficient equipment, as defined by the Efficiency Maine Trust, would get a 5 percent rebate (not to exceed $500) for the cost of the equipment. Systems would include oil and gas boilers, electric, biomass, solar and geothermal. Up to $1 million would be reserved for such rebates.
That’s a good incentive for improving energy efficiency in the state.
Another bill introduced by the governor would eliminate a position in the Office of the Public Advocate and reduce assessments on utilities. On the surface, this bill looks like a bad idea. We find it difficult to believe that utilities need a tax break. And we fear that reducing the staff at the Office of the Public Advocate from seven to six would be bad for consumers.
According to its website, the office “often intercede(s) for utility consumers on an informal basis, seeking the reconnection of power or the resolution of a billing dispute with a Maine utility. Public Advocate staff often work closely with citizen groups in bringing to the PUC petitions for improved utility service or for utility system expansions.”
Fewer resources to help people facing loss of power or to help them square off with powerful utilities would not be good policy.
However, the worst part of LePage’s energy plan is a proposal to allow large-scale hydropower plants to qualify as renewable energy — and to count toward the state’s mandate that utilities increase renewable energy sources by 1 percent per year through 2017.
The effect would be twofold: We would use fewer renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy to meet the standard, and more troubling, our environment would suffer.
LePage has touted hydropower as “probably the greenest, most renewable energy there is.”
According to the Hydropower Reform Coalition, damming rivers for energy is an outdated, 19th-century technology that kills fish and wildlife and interferes with migratory species such as salmon.
The coalition describes hydropower’s impact on the environment:
“Imagine that someone built a power plant that set your heater to 97 degrees year-round, randomly cut off your water for hours or days on end and placed a giant, impassable wall through the center of your home ... “
More hydropower would hinder ongoing efforts to restore salmon, alewives and other species to our rivers, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
We urge legislators to reject this bad idea.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.